The Edtech Trinity: Time, Training, and Tools

Edtech Trinity

Edtech tools will never replace teachers, but teachers who use edtech tools will replace those who don’t. There’s absolutely no denying that edtech tools are changing the teaching profession. As a result, I’ll argue that the edtech trinity in education must include time, training, and tool searching. As the edtech industry grows and becomes more advanced, every teacher will have the following choice to make: either get ahead of the learning curve or fall further behind.

Time

Regardless of your education reform perspective, the classroom teacher is, and always will be, the true agent of change. Even though teachers may feel powerless, at times, they must remember to assume responsibility for what they can control. Therefore, when it comes to edtech, there’s no substituting time and knowledge. Teachers need time to “play around” with edtech tools. This cannot be in the form of a “one-off” meaningless professional development presentation. A one-hour training session on the benefits and features of a particular edtech tool isn’t going to “cut it.” Yes, less tech-savvy teachers will need exposure to the edtech landscape, but, more than anything else, they’ll need an ample amount of time to learn how to effectively use these tools within the classroom.

Training & Support

In addition to time, teachers need a safe space to risk successful implementation. Every teacher navigates through an educational field filled with competing interests. For example, teachers face pressures from education policy-makers, district staff, school leaders, parents, and students. Therefore, to maximize teacher buy-in, teachers need to feel supported throughout the transitional period. Put simply, teachers who risk success need technological and pedagogical support from the entire system (i.e. from the district superintendent/chancellor to the school’s administrators). With time and space established, teachers must show a willingness to learn new instructional delivery systems. Undoubtedly, edtech tools will change a teacher’s role from a “sage on the stage” to a “face-to-face (F2F) facilitator.”

Since “change” isn’t always an easy process, school leaders must focus on recruiting and selecting teachers who have successfully demonstrated self-reflection and risk-taking abilities. Let’s not view edtech through rose-colored glasses. Some teachers will not spend the necessary time, especially outside of the school building, to learn how to leverage edtech within their classroom. So, instead of focusing solely on “scaling up” as fast as possible, school leaders must appoint certain teachers to serve as the school’s edtech guru. This way, fellow teachers can observe an edtech classroom and learn from a colleague, and not a district appointed “expert in a suit.”

Tools

First, let me start by dispelling a popular twitter-verse myth: edtech tools aren’t the Bill Gates, et al., Trojan horse. Although private companies are forming partnerships within the American K-12 public education system, we need not fear ALL edtech. Are some edtech tools designed by big companies? Yes. Are some edtech tools costly to use? Yes. With that being said, there are an abundant amount of tools that are neither designed by private companies nor costly to use. In fact, many of the edtech tools I’m currently using within my classroom are teacher-created and FREE! So, again, not all edtech tools are part of a grand plan to end public education. As long as you view them through this lens, you’ll surely miss the opportunity to “step up your teaching game.”

Since I have only five-weeks experience, and counting, using certain tools, I highly recommend using edSurge and Graphite to search for edtech tools. edSurge allows you to set “search” filters, including subjects, platform requirements, and costs. In my professional opinion, edSurge is 100% teacher- and administrator-friendly. I’ve attached a screenshot of its “Edtech Index” page for your review.

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Graphite serves the same purpose, and offers a filtering mechanism as well. However, to experience the best results, you’ll need to create a free account by signing up first. I’ve attached a picture of Graphite’s educator search page for your review as well.

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Personally speaking, I find edSurge more navigable, especially after establishing search criteria filters.

Without a doubt, the edtech industry will continue to expand. Teachers, both novices and veterans alike, will have to choose between two outcomes: 1) leading from the front or 2) trailing from behind. There’s no substituting for time, training, and tool searching. However, one thing is certain: edtech is changing, and will continue to change, the teaching profession. Even though edtech, itself, will never replace teachers, those who effectively use edtech will definitely “rise above the rest.”

Knowledge is Power, but Learning is Personal.

Personalized learning allows for each student to learn at his or her own pace. It provides me the opportunity to target instruction and assessment. This model ensures equity in education.

Many of my middle school students have large academic achievement deficits. As a 2014 CityBridge Education Innovation Fellow, I want to give them personalized instruction via online instruction, such as noredink, curriculet, exitticket, etc. They deserve a quality education.

I have the privilege of teaching 7th grade students at a Title 1, economically disadvantaged D.C. Middle School. My students face a great deal of challenges, but are some of the most resilient kids I’ve ever met. Although they are “rough around the edges,” I have a great connection with many of them. In fact, I consider them my children. I often advocate for them, as I firmly believe they deserve a quality education and personalized instruction.

I’ve started curating various online programs that target specific skills, such as reading comprehension and grammar. I will use blendspace to create a playlist for my students. With this program, and with a 1:1 laptop ratio, using the 4 Acer Chromebooks I am requesting, my students will be able to work on their own pace. In addition, I will be able to analyze the data on a more specific and meaningful level. Students will use the daily tasks and complete them, as they progress along specific learning pathways. Although I teach social studies (ancient civilization), I will use resources that offer historical context, as well as develop fundamental skills (i.e. reading comprehension and grammar).

Without a doubt, personalized learning (blended learning) is a game changer in education. This project will give my students with the opportunity to receive the best available educational online resources, to date. Although they have grave academic deficits, they can benefit greatly from personalized instruction.

Can you help make this goal a reality? If so, follow this link: http://www.donorschoose.org/project/personalized-learning-pilot-equity-in-e/1196516/?rf=link_siteshare_2014_03_teacherid_2215459&challengeid=367345

Your contribution is much appreciated!

Why Precisely Do Teachers Leave High Poverty Schools?

Why Precisely Do Teachers Leave High Poverty Schools?.

Recently, I participated in a 9 minute podcast, via BAM Radio Network, with host Larry Ferlazzo, an inner-city High School teacher. Mr. Paul Bruno, a middle school teacher in Los Angeles, California, and I discussed the following topic: Why do teachers avoid, or leave, high poverty public schools? It was an engaging discussion. This earlier post inspired the podcast.

DCPS and the WTU: A Negotiation Showdown or an Opportunity to Repair?

During the coming negotiation rounds between DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson and the Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU) President, Elizabeth “Liz” Davis, the following issues need further elaboration: How has IMPACT 2.0 faired in the 40 lowest performing schools? What is the teacher turnover rate within these schools, especially for Group 1 teachers? Is the current classroom observations’ model helping to develop teachers? What are the shortcomings of IMPACT 2.0? What “software upgrades” are essential for encouraging “out-of-the-box” teacher risks and innovation? How can the system prevent teachers from “burning out” or leaving the District, altogether? If these questions, and more, are “on the negotiation table,” then, perhaps, IMPACT version 3.0 will be worth the wait.

Background

During the Fall of 2008, DCPS created the “Effective Schools Framework,” an overarching education reform policy designed to ensure quality education within all DCPS schools. This “framework” consists of six core elements: Teaching and Learning; Leadership; Job-Embedded Professional Development; Resources; Safe and Effective Learning Environment; and, Family and Community Engagement. According to DCPS, the Teaching and Learning Element, which focuses on strong classroom instruction, is the primary focus of the overall framework. Moreover, the Teaching and Learning Element has three main purposes: provide clear expectations for teachers; align professional development and support; and, support a fair and transparent educator assessment system (IMPACT).

IMPACT: The Teacher Evaluation System

The IMPACT Teacher Evaluation System was first introduced in 2009. This evaluation system seeks to provide DCPS educators with the tools necessary for becoming more “effective.” Its three main purposes are: Clarifying Expectations; Providing Feedback and Support; and, Retaining Great People. At the center of the IMPACT Teacher Evaluation System are the “Guidebooks,” which consists of twenty differentiated evaluation rubrics based on an employee’s specific job title, or “group.” For example, mathematics and English Language Arts (ELA) teachers belong to “Group 1,” which is the only group subject to test-based accountability, vis-à-vis a student’s performance on the annual high-stakes test (DC CAS). General education teachers, such as science and electives teachers, belong to “Group 2.” Special Education teachers belong to “Group 3” teachers, which is further differentiated for Autism programs (Group 3a) and Early Childhood Education (Group 3b).

Concerns and Considerations

Although differentiating between teachers, i.e. “groups,” sounds ideal, it actually creates more wedges. If the aim is to hold all teachers accountable for student learning, then we must reassess the “grouping” effect from a ground-level perspective. In my experience, both as a Group 1 and Group 2 teacher, I find the Group 1 rubric more rigid than Groups 2 and 3. Why is this the case? This differentiated accountability is wholly unfair to Group 1 teachers, especially within the 40 lowest performing schools. If our collective aim is to educate every child, then we need to implement the same accountability standards across the board.

Another challenge with differentiated teacher accountability is its tendency to stifle interdisciplinary collaboration. Due to DC CAS related pressures, Group 1 teachers often collaborate in isolation, and understandably so. Of all IMPACT “teacher-groups,” Group 1 teachers definitely carry the most burdens. Again, why is this the case? Is differentiated teacher accountability a best practice? Does it produce a positive effect throughout a low-performing public school? Does it create higher rates of teacher turnover or movers, particularly Group 1 teachers within these targeted public schools? If so, then this issue needs serious consideration, pronto!

The Teaching and Learning Framework: Classroom Observations

Another critical aspect to the Teaching and Learning Element is classroom, or teacher, observations. According to DCPS’ website, “three observations are conducted by teachers’ administrators and two are conducted by independent, expert practitioners called “master educators.” DCPS administrators and master educators use this scoring rubric during an official classroom. Although “teacher-groups” are differentiated (i.e. Group 1, 2, 3, etc.), the classroom observation rubric is not differentiated. In other words, it’s a one-size-fits-all scoring checklist.

Concerns and Considerations

When it comes to the Teaching and Learning Framework (TLF), my fundamental question is this: what’s the objective of classroom observations? If the intent is to support and develop teachers, then conducting four-to-five random observations isn’t an effective model. If the aim is simply to generate a numerical average based on a rubric, then the current system is ideal. Again, what’s the overarching objective? Is the District in the business of professionally developing its teachers, or professional chasing its vanity metrics?

The most damaging aspect of performing random classroom observations is its tendency to disincentives risk-taking. If teachers are walking around the school building in perpetual fear, then their performance will, undoubtedly, suffer. Classroom observations are critical to ensuring best practices, and providing meaningful, professional support. The current model, however, is neither “effective” nor “highly effective.” An issue I’ve expressed in more detail here. This development tools must encourage risk-taking, and incentives out-of-the-box innovation. The last thing teachers’ need is an evaluation system that stifles creativity, and sets a culture of “fear.”

Value Added Model (VAM)

A Value Added Model (VAM), which originated as a means to assess agricultural effectiveness, is a measure used to evaluate a DCPS Group 1 teacher’s performance vis-à-vis the DC CAS. According to DCPS, “Individual Value-Added (IVA) applies to English Language Arts teachers in (4th through 10thgrade), and to Math teachers (4th through 8th grade). Thus, Group 1 (ELA and Math) teachers, alone, fall prey to this evaluative component because “they are the only ones for which we have student DC CAS scores from both the prior and current year, a requirement for value-added.” For an explanation on how DCPS uses a VAM approach to assessing Group 1 teachers, please read this report. If you want a brief explanation on why the VAM approach is highly unreliable, please view this video.

Concerns and Considerations

Without question, VAMs have a definite design flaw. A teacher’s classroom student composition, vis-à-vis prior student achievement levels, can make or break his or her final IVA (Individual Added Value) score. VAM proponents often claim that this model captures student growth. Although VAMs do capture a student’s growth or decline on a standardized test, it fails to consider actual growth, which isn’t necessarily measured by grade level proficiency cut-off scores. An issue I’ve explained in more detail here and here. If a student, who’s multiple grade levels behind, randomly selects answers, then how’s this an adequate representation of a teacher’s ability to instruct? This isn’t a trick question. The simple answer: It’s not!

As a result, VAMs have a tendency to punish certain teachers and schools, in large part, because low-performing schools consist primarily of “low-performing” students. Thus, DCPS Group 1 teachers – ELA and Math – are extremely vulnerable to low IMPACT evaluation ratings, vis-à-vis their IVA score. So, is IMPACT 2.0 counterproductive? Well, if the aim is to recruit quality teachers into the most vulnerable, low performing schools, then, yes, this version falls well short of its intended aims.

According to this report, almost one-third (32.4%) of DCPS teachers, who work in high-poverty public schools, left the District. In contrast, only 13.2% of teachers who work in low-poverty DC public school, and 9.2% of teachers who work in a medium-poverty school left the District. This isn’t difficult to understand. The last thing a teacher needs is an evaluation system that punishes his or her decision to work in a low-performing school. On the contrary, the District needs a teacher evaluation system that encourages teachers to sign up for the most challenging assignments, and not avoid them.

Will DCPS Upgrade to IMPACT 3.0?

So, is IMPACT 3.0 up for negotiation? Let’s definitely hope so. Although IMPACT version 2.0 replaced the first product, it still needs reassessment and revision. In my professional opinion, the current version favors low-poverty public schools and teachers, which runs contrary to the District’s stated “40/40 Goal.” Therefore, it’s important to place all issues “on the negotiation table.” As a DCPS teacher, working within a high-poverty public middle school in Ward 8, I genuinely want an evaluation system that is fair and reasonable. DCPS and the WTU must guard against all unintended consequences. If DCPS and the WTU genuinely seek to improve the lowest-performing schools, then they must address the high turn over rates in high-poverty schools, as well as the unspoken desire for teachers to avoid teaching in high-needs schools due to IMPACT, especially under the Group 1 category. If the aim is to recruit and develop quality teachers for the most vulnerable schools, then DCPS and the WTU must have a system that encourages teachers to teach in challenging environments, and not avoid them. Or, worse still. We simply cannot afford a perpetual revolving door in our most vulnerable public schools. Hence, I truly hope ALL issues are “on the negotiation table.”