Reinventing Education

Beginning this fall, third and sixth graders throughout San Diego will use laptop computers to connect with their peers and work on projects that apply what they’re learning to real-world situations. Their teachers will use interactive whiteboards to help make lessons come alive, while reaching students who learn best through a variety of different learning styles. And school leaders will rigorously track student outcomes and use this information to improve instruction.

San Diego’s efforts are part of a five-year plan to reinvent the way students are taught in the city’s schools–and they could serve as a model for others to follow as district leaders look to put new federal priorities into action.

President Obama has challenged the nation to turn around low-performing schools, put highly qualified teachers into classrooms, and ensure that student achievement improves. At the core of these reforms is an emphasis on 21st-century teaching and learning in which technology is not merely present, but is used in the most effective ways possible.

Billions of dollars in grant money will be disbursed to schools this year as part of the second wave of federal stimulus funding, and districts whose goals align with the Obama administration’s stated priorities will have a leg up on the competition. That puts districts such as San Diego Unified in a good position, observers say, to leverage federal dollars to effect real change.

(For more on Obama’s vision for education, see the side story "San Diego’s vision aligns with Obama’s plans for school transformation.")

Eileen Lento, government and education strategist for Intel Corp., one of San Diego’s corporate partners, commended the district’s efforts and said they embody the spirit of a true modern education.
"San Diego is demonstrating inspired leadership and vision with its systemic plan for transformation," said Lento, who added that the district "is boldly stepping up to the challenges this country is facing"–including the need for teachers prepared to teach in a technology-rich environment, as well as more rigorous academic standards.
And Lento said San Diego students will benefit immensely from the city’s five-year plan.
"[Such an] innovative program will provide the children of San Diego [with] an engaging and personalized learning environment, mindfully designed to optimize teaching and learning through the interconnected use of visual [and] auditory [media], mobile computing, and formative assessment technologies across the curriculum," she said.

Rejuvenating education

Obama repeatedly has stressed that the nation’s standing as a global economic leader will be at risk if the United States does not do a better job of educating students.

Toward that end, Education Secretary Arne Duncan has revealed four key priorities for the Obama administration. Every school in the country is encouraged to adopt rigorous standards, train and retain high-quality teachers, use data systems to track student progress continually, and turn around low-performing schools.

In fact, states had to address those four reform areas and must keep federal officials apprised of their progress to receive funding from the $48.6 billion in State Fiscal Stabilization Funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). State applications for the $4.35 billion Race to the Top Fund also will be evaluated for adherence to those four areas.

"We know from the data … that America has stagnated educationally as the rest of the world has progressed and, in too many places, passed us by," Duncan said.

Federal officials also have talked at length about the importance of technology in re-envisioning education for the 21st century.

"You’ve got kids who have gone through school for years and years, never having had the opportunity to take the courses that would have allowed them to be prepared when they entered college. They don’t have an equitable distribution of high-quality teachers," Jim Shelton, assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement at the U.S. Department of Education, said recently. 

Speaking before the Federal Communications Commission at an Aug. 21 hearing to discuss the educational implications of a national broadband plan, Shelton said: "We often don’t have the data to tell us even which teachers are the ones [who] are most effective. We need to start thinking about data and the power that it has to transform education in a very different way."

He continued: "How does a teacher with 30 students in the classroom, with five or six different levels of current performance, with 15 different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, multiple languages at home–how does that teacher … figure out a way to reach all those students in the classroom? There have got to be tools to help our teachers understand how to reach each student. Improving instruction, enhancing the capabilities of our teachers, has to be a way for us to leverage technology."

Additional Resources
Click here for details about Obama’s plan for education and how SDUSD is realizing that plan.

Read more details about TPACK, an integral part of San Diego’s professional development.

Three pillars form the basis of the project: creating a 21st-century learning environment, implementing Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge for professional development, and using Universal Design for Learning. SDUSD officials are hopeful that, taken together, these three objectives will support student achievement.

SDUSD’s i21 initiative is funded through Proposition S, a $2.1 billion bond measure that passed in November 2008.

California’s San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) is on course to realizing an educational transformation like the one the Obama administration envisions for the country. The district’s unique and systemic approach to school reform, the i21 Interactive Classroom Initiative (i21), aims to completely revamp the way San Diego students learn.

"For SDUSD, this is the first bond that has gone beyond the traditional building of schools or bolting things to the walls to actually transform classrooms," said Darryl LaGace, San Diego’s chief information and technology officer.

LaGace said Proposition S allots about $480 million to technology and infrastructure-related work. The district will leverage e-Rate funds and will take advantage of ARRA funding to pay for ongoing professional development, system maintenance, and other costs.

"There is quite a bit of professional development that isn’t funded through Proposition S, and the initial program requires 39 hours of professional development for teachers in the first year," he explained.

The i21 classroom pairs Promethean Activboard interactive whiteboards with Lenovo student laptops to engage students’ interest and get them excited to learn. Computer workstations, teacher laptops and workstations, audio-visual systems, student response systems, document cameras, printers, wireless access points, and continued training also are included.

Promethean representatives will meet with classroom teachers two weeks before the installation of Activboards to go over the system and address any questions they might have. Within two days of installation, teachers will have on-site, hands-on training in small groups.

The initiative is a five-year, multi-phased plan, which started in July. SDUSD officials estimate that by the end of the 2009-10 school year, they will have updated roughly 1,300 classrooms–affecting about 25,000 students and teachers. Over all five years, more than 7,000 classrooms will be transformed. Approximately 38,000 student devices will be distributed in the project’s first year, increasing to 133,000 by the fifth year.

According to project details, the i21 initiative will help students meet SDUSD’s overarching goal to "graduate with the skills, motivation, curiosity, and resilience to succeed in their choice of college and career in order to lead and participate in the society of tomorrow."

Core project goals include increasing the percentage of students meeting state content standards, reducing the achievement gap, optimizing student engagement and access to 21st-century learning opportunities, and helping students connect the school curriculum to real-world issues and events.

The Information Technology department teamed up with Student Services to ensure that i21 reached every single San Diego student.

"We’ve been able to focus on students with special needs to make our classrooms more accessible district-wide," LaGace said. The department is looking at technologies such as text-to-speech software, which LaGace said is especially useful because it can help students with disabilities as well as English language learners.

"I think it’s really key that we look at how we can extend and create classrooms that are ready for inclusion of all kids," he said.

Measuring outcomes

And will the district be tracking student data–another major element of Obama’s education plan–to assess i21’s impact?

"Absolutely," said Terry Grier, the district’s departing superintendent. (Grier oversaw the passing of the bond issue but is leaving San Diego to become superintendent of the Houston Independent School District.)

The initiative’s impact will be measured by student engagement, academic outcomes, teacher outcomes, and equipment performance, with results compared to the baseline year.

Measures of student engagement include student attendance, number of disciplinary actions, and increased time on activities related to instruction and learning. Student outcomes will be judged by criteria that include the number of students who earn grades of C or better, performance on course projects and assessments, graduation rates, referral data for special education, and technological proficiency as measured by the State Ed Tech Profile.

Teacher outcomes will be measured by increases in teacher integration of technology tools and resources and teacher retention. Equipment performance will be judged on ease of use, use of educational software, connectivity issues, and how often equipment breaks or must be fixed.

The first year of the project will reach all SDUSD third and sixth grade classrooms, as well as 20 percent of all ninth through 12th grade classrooms, starting with mathematics classrooms in grades 9-12. Year two will focus on fourth and seventh grade classrooms, and language arts classrooms in grades 9-12. Year three will see updates in all SDUSD fifth and eighth grade classrooms, as well as social studies classrooms in grades 9-12. The fourth year will update all district first grade classrooms, as well as another 20 percent of ninth through 12th grade classrooms. The fifth and final project year will update kindergarten and second grade classrooms and will complete the remaining classrooms in grades 9-12.

"We’re following the child. Every third grader in San Diego is going to have a very different experience from here on out," LaGace said.

The close monitoring of student progress, achievement, and preparation aligns with the Obama administration’s hope that students be held to rigorous standards and leave school ready for the global economy.

SDUSD will have support for technology installation, training, and integration into the learning environment throughout the project’s duration, and district officials will develop schedules for installation and training, including a three-month training support plan for teachers and other district staff.

A Proposition S technology project manager will coordinate installation with the different school sites, working with district IT support personnel on-site, and will implement a training support plan.

SDUSD officials estimate that i21’s first year will cost nearly $27 million, not including infrastructure upgrades that might be necessary. Approximate training costs are $487,500–or about $500 per teacher.

SDUSD appeared to be ahead of the curve when Obama began stressing the need to improve student graduation rates. The district opened iHiGH Virtual Academy (iHVA), its first public virtual high school, last fall.

Students are able to take accelerated learning courses, Advanced Placement courses, and community college courses in addition to credit recovery. The district made a graduation coach available to help students as they recovered credits through online courses. Students are issued a loaner laptop from the district and have 24-7 access to courses.

The program has "had a dramatic impact on our dropout and graduation rates," Grier said. More than 4,500 credits were recovered during the 2008-09 school year.

This year, Grier said the district plans to put an online learning center in six high schools, so that students can complete credit recovery and take online courses, including some for college credit.

Ensuring effective teaching

Grier said the district operates on the idea that no amount of reform, no matter how dramatic, can succeed without educators who have received professional development designed to enhance their knowledge of content, pedagogy, and technology.

Professional development is especially important in a one-to-one computing initiative, because teachers who are comfortable with the technology they and their students use will have the biggest educational impact. But training must be an ongoing element in any district, Grier said.

Educators should feel supported while mastering new skills, because support makes educators more inclined to stay in their teaching positions. Ongoing professional development ensures that teachers maintain the level of excellence and effectiveness that Secretary Duncan has continually emphasized.

To that end, district leaders are forming professional development around TPACK (Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge), a relatively new concept that focuses on how content, pedagogy, and technology combine to create an effective learning environment that is enhanced–not dictated–by technology.

The TPACK model of professional development is based on the work of Punya Mishra and Matthew J. Koehler, both associate professors of educational technology at the Michigan State University College of Education. (For more on Mishra and Koehler’s work on TPACK, see the side story "TPACK explores effective ed-tech integration.")

TPACK "attempts to capture some of the essential qualities of knowledge required by teachers for technology integration in their teaching, while addressing the complex, multifaceted, and situated nature of teacher knowledge," according to the TPACK web site.

At the center of the concept is how those three knowledge areas–content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, and technological knowledge–interact with one another.

"We worked closely with the [district] Educational Technology department to design a professional development program that is all-encompassing," LaGace said. "When you look at the TPACK model, it gets around to improving the whole classroom experience. … It puts the focus not on teaching teachers how to turn on a Promethean Activboard, but why to turn it on."

The district also uses resources from the Intel Teach program, which is a research-based initiative that guides educators through various steps to incorporate technology in their teaching, all for the larger goal of enhancing students’ 21st-century education.

Intel Teach Elements offers shorter courses to give teachers a better understanding of 21st-century skills; Intel Teach Essentials requires teachers to strengthen 21st-century skills and work with other teachers as they develop a project-based unit plan that is aligned with state and local standards; and the Intel Teach Thinking with Technology course helps teachers build on their technology skills and learn how to use technology as effectively as possible in the classroom.

The program uses a mix of face-to-face and online programs, and it also offers courses for school leaders and preservice teachers.

Using Intel’s model, LaGace said, SDUSD has separated into six clusters, each with its own content-area professional from the district’s Educational Technology department, who will provide support for staff and school sites within that cluster.

And school leaders are learning just as much as the classroom teachers who will be using the technology every day. SDUSD leaders spent three days training with the new technologies in an effort to learn how to gauge whether educators are taking full advantage of the district’s resources.

"We gave them background on what to look for as they’re observing classrooms and teaching techniques, and making sure we’re focusing on our standards," LaGace said.

"Any kind of technology is new, and [represents] change. If you don’t have the proper staff development [to teach] people to use it, it’s worthless," Grier said.

And the investment is not a one-time occurrence.

"In using this technology, it’s not a two-hour or one-day workshop. You need hours of meaningful training for this to become an integral part of your toolbox, and we want to stretch and get every ounce out of this equipment we can," Grier said.

SDUSD classrooms will be "designed to be 21st-century learning environments coupled with ongoing teacher professional development" to create opportunities for new learning techniques and give students relevant 21st-century learning experiences.

i21 classrooms also will follow the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), a concept that helps educators tailor their teaching approaches to address different learning styles.

According to the Center for Applied Special Technology, UDL calls for:

• Multiple means of representation to give learners various ways of acquiring information and knowledge;
• Multiple means of action and expression to give learners alternatives for demonstrating what they know; and
• Multiple means of engagement to tap into learners’ interests, offer appropriate challenges, and increase motivation.

The technology systems that make up the i21 classroom provide for multiple means of representation, action and expression, and engagement, through the capability to add graphics, video, and sound.

Intel’s K-12 Computing Blueprint, a flexible and adaptable model that helps school districts transform into 21st-century learning centers, provides additional inspiration to the district, LaGace said.

The Blueprint touches on several essential components for successful technology-based school transformation–including clear and effective policies, strong leadership, funding, curriculum, and infrastructure–and gives districts advice on how to approach each component.

The payoff

When states apply on behalf of their local school systems for part of the $4.35 billion Race to the Top Fund, their applications will be evaluated largely on how well they take innovative, 21st-century approaches to addressing Obama’s four key education reform areas, and Grier said he hopes San Diego’s efforts will attract some of that funding.

"When you start talking about having a Promethean Activboard in every classroom in the next four to five years, wireless access, 24 to 30 laptops in the classrooms, [and the professional development to support that]–we feel really good," Grier said.

Besides Race to the Top money, the Education Department also will distribute $650 million in funding to encourage innovation through competitive grants to school districts this fall, through a program called the Investing in Innovation (i3) Fund. ED also will release the second half of $650 million in Enhancing Education Through Technology stimulus funding to states. States, in turn, will distribute this money to school systems through a combination of competitive and formula-based grants.

All these funding sources could come in handy for a district in a state that has made drastic cuts to education in an effort to survive a financial crisis.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has called for a special legislative session to eke out additional education funding. At the top of Schwarzenegger’s reforms are the adoption of a merit pay scale for teachers and a requirement for districts to take student achievement data under consideration when evaluating teachers.

"We’re following the [ARRA] guidelines, and we certainly have a strong focus on transformational change," LaGace said.

"I think technology will help [complement] the teacher–teachers will no longer be the sage on the stage, they’ll be the guide on the side," Grier said. "[We should be] working with technology to make learning relevant. Technology can help us."

He concluded: "This is a San Diego Unified vision of what we think schools of tomorrow are going to start looking like. These are our best thoughts."


San Diego Unified School District

Center for Applied Special Technology

Intel Teach Program

Intel Education Initiative