Course Access policies focus on equitable learning
The answer to ensuring that all students have equitable access to the courses that will prepare them to be college- and career-ready could be found in a state policy known as Course Access, according to a new report from the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL).
Federal data indicates that only 50 percent of U.S. high schools offer calculus and just 63 percent offer physics, meaning that students in the other 50 percent of schools don’t even have the chance to enroll in these advanced courses. But Course Access policies, funded by public education dollars, would ensure that all students have equal access to the online, blended, and face-to-face educational opportunities that help them become college and career ready.
This lack of equitable K-12 course access persists in college and through to the workforce, according to the report, which notes that minorities and underrepresented student groups traditionally have low access to high school STEM courses, and, therefore, are underrepresented in STEM professional fields.
Students often lose interest in STEM fields as early as middle school, and research shows that sustaining STEM interest through high school is a big predictor of college and workforce STEM participation. But Course Access can change that by offering consistent learning opportunities that sustain student interest in STEM.
Classes offered through Course Access pass state academic and quality standards and can be offered in online, face-to-face, and technical formats.
Students could opt for Course Access if they want to take a specialized class, such as Mandarin Chinese, not offered at their school, which is often the case for students in rural districts. In addition, Course Access is an option for students who wish to take Advanced Placement or other college-level courses not offered in their district.
This approach also offers potential for increased personalized learning strategies.
School groups team up to help with digital transformation
Many educators across the United States have made considerable progress in using technology to transform learning, and several school districts have advanced beyond small pockets of innovation to embrace systemic transformation.
However, few school systems have found a way to create a fully enabled digital ecosystem that is continuously improving.
To help school systems make this “digital leap,” three leading educational leadership groups—AASA, the School Superintendents Association; the National School Boards Association (NSBA); and the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN)—are partnering to share their collective expertise.
The organizations’ “Leading the Digital Leap” initiative aims to empower K-12 superintendents, district technology leaders, and school boards to strengthen their ed-tech advocacy and adopt “bold, thoughtful, and scalable approaches that leverage digital tools in ways that personalize learning,” according to CoSN.
The project is expected to launch at the end of the month with a website, www.leaddigitalleap.org, that will contain best practices for leading a digital transformation in schools. The website also will include practical resources such as an E-rate Toolkit for leveraging the federal E-rate to fund technology infrastructure; a checklist for ensuring schools are ready for online testing this year; and more.
“Helping school district leaders take the ‘digital leap’ means new roles for district technology leaders, superintendents, and school boards, and everyone has to make that leap,” said Keith Krueger, CoSN’s chief executive.
“The exciting thing about the Leading the Digital Leap initiative is that, for the first time, the major professional associations representing district leaders are joining together to help our school systems enact digital system-wide transformation. We are creating a common voice and suite of resources to answer the ‘whys’ and the ‘hows’ to make this vision a reality.”
eSchool Media is a media partner for the project.
Four ways to advocate for school libraries
If school librarians want to make a case for library funding, they must demonstrate how they help students learn and prove that they build collaborative instructional partnerships with classroom teachers.
Libraries often suffer financially when school administrators are forced to make budget cuts, often because administrators might still have outdated views regarding what the school library actually does.
Librarians have specialized and varied training, but often, that training does not help direct funding to the school library unless administrators see how libraries benefit student learning, said Michelle Luhtala, head librarian at New Canaan High School (Conn.), during a Connected Educator Month edWeb webinar about making the case for school libraries.
Luhtala, with input from Deb Schiano, a teacher-librarian at Madison Junior School in New Jersey, outlined four areas of expertise where librarians can demonstrate to school administrators that they directly contribute to student learning.
“This is very powerful, very useful, and is a huge part of what we do,” Luhtala said. “We explain how research is done. There’s real collaboration here.”
School librarians play an integral role in developing materials that help teachers understand and unpack the Common Core, and they work to create documents and warehouses of collaborative materials and research projects.
Creating online learning materials in collaboration with fellow librarians and educators supports educators’ instruction, which supports students’ learning achievements.
Librarians teach teachers, through direct instruction and through classroom experiences, how to use technologies. Helping teachers reach that “ah-ha” moment leads to greater and more effective technology integration in teaching and learning.
Professional development is an important part of collaborative instructional partnerships. Librarians offer unique services when they enter a teacher’s classroom and help the teacher become more independent not just in technology use, but also in developing and teaching research skills and other important skills students will need when they go to college or join the workforce.
With no internet at home, kids crowd libraries for online homework
Once again, Christina Morua found herself in the South Dade library longer than she would like on a school night. The 28-year-old single mom sat in the bustling children's section on a recent Thursday, waiting for her fourth-grader to get on a computer and start some online math homework.
"We don't have any Internet at home," Morua said as her oldest, 11-year-old Abel, clicked through an assignment on a library laptop while Alina, 9, waited for her turn at a desktop. "We just reserved a computer. We have to wait 70 minutes. He got one of the last laptops."
With more school materials heading online, parents like Morua here and elsewhere across the country find they can no longer count on home for homework. That leaves libraries as a crucial venue for their youngest patrons, but funding challenges, reduced hours on school nights and aging equipment have made it harder to meet the demand.
"The laptops we do have, the batteries aren't working," said Patricia Readon, a librarian working the children's desk at the South Dade branch in Cutler Bay. "You can check out a laptop, and the next 30 minutes it's dead. The sad part is, if you don't have a computer, you can't do your homework."
Morua's long wait for a computer offers a flip side to the current debate over how best to reinvent Miami-Dade's libraries. That discussion has largely focused on how to attract people with no current interest in libraries--entrepreneurs who need office space, twenty-somethings who might like a Starbucks near the checkout counter, and 3-D printers for the "maker" movement of techie do-it-yourselfers.
Yet for families without access to online homework, libraries are already the place to be on school nights. It's just the lack of computers that has them complaining.
Students excel with project-based learning
When it comes to classrooms today, students want more than the lectures and quiet classrooms of the past. They want technology to use as learning tools, they want to collaborate, and they want to work on projects that are relevant to their learning and the real world.