Each year, the education nonprofit Project Tomorrow spearheads Speak Up, a national online research project that collects and reports the views of K–12 students, educators and parents on a variety of education and technology issues.
More than 3 million stakeholders have participated in the survey since its inception in 2003, the results of which are shared with federal, state and local policymakers to inform education programs, policies and funding.
Speak Up 2012 data has been available to participating schools and districts since February this year, but the national release of findings is still a few weeks away. On April 19, Project Tomorrow CEO Julie Evans will present to Congress the insights of the 39,713 parents and 62,357 teachers, librarians and administrators who completed the 2012 survey. In early June, Project Tomorrow will present data from the survey’s 364,240 student participants.
Educators and IT leaders who attended the Consortium for School Networking’s annual conference in San Diego this week got a sneak peek at the responses of 500 technology leaders who participated in a special Speak Up survey on the issues of primary importance to them. Here are some highlights.
Challenges Extend Beyond the Budget
Asked which issues are most challenging to them or to their district or school relating to the use of technology within instruction, IT leaders’ most popular response was providing professional development, with 46 percent of respondents citing it as a challenge. The availability of technology for student use at school was also a popular choice, at 45 percent.
Other widely cited challenges include:
- Providing technology support to teachers: 43%
- Incorporating student-owned devices into the network: 39 percent
- Evaluating emerging technologies for instructional use: 37 percent
- Digital equity issues (student access to technology and the Internet at home): 35 percent
Leveraging More Bandwidth
Forty-one percent of respondents indicated that their school or district’s Internet connectivity needs are met most of the time. But if they had more bandwidth, they would overwhelmingly do three things:
- Increase the use of streaming videos within instruction: 69 percent
- Increase the use of multimedia resources in the classroom: 67 percent
- Better utilize an online curriculum: 62 percent
Respondents were allowed to check any option that applied, and although the three aforementioned responses were cited most frequently, other uses that resonated include providing professional development for teachers (35 percent), providing online professional learning communities for staff and teachers (29 percent) and offering online or distance learning courses (29 percent).
Turning to Technology to Cut Costs, Increase Revenue
Every school and district is challenged to do more with less. Asked which technology solutions they’ve deployed in the past three years to help with budget challenges, the top three choices were parental online and phone-based notification systems, at 47 percent; cloud computing applications, at 46 percent; and tablet computers or netbooks (instead of notebooks), at 44 percent.
Communicating with parents via social media (35 percent), digital textbooks (32 percent), online professional development (30 percent) and bring-your-own-device programs (29 percent) also were cited with some frequency.
Common Core Concerns
A number of challenges are emerging as schools and districts in Common Core states prepare for mandatory online assessments beginning in the 2014¬–2015 school year. Nearly six in 10 respondents (59 percent) indicated that not having enough computers was the most significant obstacle they faced, and 56 percent noted that the need to train teachers and studentswas similarly onerous.
Other widely cited challenges include:
- Costs to modernize infrastructure: 44 percent
- Limited facility space to accommodate a testing lab: 42 percent
- The need to increase technology support staff: 42 percent
- Costs to implement the online tests: 41 percent
Defining the “Ultimate” School
Asked which tools or strategies hold the greatest potential to increase student achievement and success, 84 percent of respondents identified the ability to access the Internet anywhere in school as a characteristic that the “ultimate school for 21st century learners” should have. Providing digital content was also a popular choice, at 76 percent.
Other technology offerings that would maximize teaching and learning, they said, include:
- Adaptive learning software, which adjusts levels of difficulty and content to address student needs: 71 percent
- Digital media creation tools: 66 percent
- Online textbooks: 64 percent
- Tools to help students and teachers organize their work: 60 percent
From Linda Darling-Hammond "As recently as 2009, a MetLife study indicated that 68% of educators had more than an hour per week to engage in structured collaboration with colleagues to improve student learning. By 2012, only 48% had an hour or more per week for this essential work. In what professional field can practice improve if most practitioners don’t have even an hour a week to work together collaboratively?"
By Linda Darling-Hammond
Concern for 21st century learning has driven the adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) by more than 40 states. These new standards recognize that the premium in today’s world is not merely on students’ acquiring information, but on their being able to analyze, synthesize, and apply what they’ve learned to address new problems, design solutions, collaborate effectively, and communicate persuasively.
Achieving these goals will require a transformation in teaching, learning, and assessment so that all students develop the deeper learning competencies that are necessary for post-secondary success.
Whether that transformation occurs has everything to do with how policymakers and practitioners approach this new reform. Ironically, old style factory-model thinking could undercut richer student learning if we follow traditional patterns of education reform implementation. Like a contractor who is paid a bonus to finish a project on a tight timeline, school systems that cut corners by trying to “automate” teaching decisions through pacing guides, scripted curriculum, or frequent, narrow testing are likely to produce rickety, undeveloped student learning skills.
Efforts to manage instruction through top-down prescriptions rather than the development of deep expertise will not enable the kinds of teaching that are required to help students learn to read, listen, and think critically; conduct research and use evidence; communicate productively orally, in writing, and with technology; and continually improve their own work. Teachers will need to be able to model and demonstrate these skills, identify what their students already know and link it to what they need to learn, build on students’ diverse experiences and language backgrounds, and structure rich learning opportunities that combine explicit instruction with inquiry, feedback, reflection, and revision.
How will teachers transform their practice to meet these expectations? In fields like trauma care and the building trades that have seen sharp gains in quality over the past generation, the emergence of new standards for professional practice coincided with a focus on improving collaborative decision-making and inquiry to solve problems in real time. If we want to see similar gains in education, we must structure for success by understanding that effective collaboration in schools doesn’t occur by happenstance—it requires purposeful action.
New research from the National Center for Literacy Education (NCLE) shows that educators in every subject area and role are eager to work together to deepen literacy learning: Across fields, 77% of educators, principals, and librarians agreed that developing student literacy is one of the most important responsibilities they have. It also showed that educators are committed to common-sense changes to improve teaching and learning practices: they most value time to co-plan with colleagues to create new lessons or instructional strategies and to analyze how their students are developing and what they can do together to advance progress.
On the face of it, these results don’t seem surprising—in every field, professionals benefit from connecting with dedicated colleagues to improve practice. What is surprising, even alarming, is how rarely collaborative activities that are essential to improving outcomes are supported in our schools. Here is what NCLE survey respondents reported about support for working together in their schools:
· Only 32% have a chance to frequently co-create or reflect with colleagues about how a lesson has worked.
· Only 21% are given time to frequently examine student work with colleagues.
· Only 14% frequently receive feedback from colleagues.
· And only 10% frequently have the opportunity to observe the teaching practice of a colleague.
Even worse, evidence suggests that time afforded to educators to collaborate and problem-solve is eroding quickly. As recently as 2009, a MetLife study indicated that 68% of educators had more than an hour per week to engage in structured collaboration with colleagues to improve student learning. By 2012, only 48% had an hour or more per week for this essential work. In what professional field can practice improve if most practitioners don’t have even an hour a week to work together collaboratively?
But the NCLE survey data also gives us a foundation to build upon. It found that in schools where educators report that professional collaboration is routinely practiced, trust among all educators is high, and new learning about effective practices is shared much more rapidly.
It makes sense that where principals, school system leaders, and instructional coaches model collaborative decision-making and tackling problems as shared questions to be studied and solved, real change in student learning results.
So we can read the NCLE survey results as both a cautionary tale and a reason for optimism. They suggest that far from resisting change or shirking responsibility, educators are eager to work together to evaluate the quality of teaching at their site and design changes that continuously improve student learning. But, not many schools are yet structured to provide the time and learning opportunities necessary to build this sustainable path to change.
The reform impulse that gave rise to construction of new learning standards and assessments will only work if we invest in the capacity of educators to work together effectively. Where educators are challenged and supported to get off the hamster wheel of “covering” ever more material and work together on important questions driven by what they actually observe, student learning thrives. It’s time to clear away non-essential demands and build capacity in our schools for smarter teaching and learning—educators are ready for it, students deserve it, and our future prosperity and security require it.