Providence elementary wins $470K RIDE technology grant

Gov. Chafee and RI Dept. of Education (RIDE) Commissioner Deborah Gist paid a surprise visit to Pleasant View Elementary in Providence this morning to announce that the school had won the RI Innovation Powered by Technology model school grant, according a release from RIDE. The $470,000 grant will finance a plan that that Pleasant View educators developed to redesign the school and transform its instructional practices through the use of technology.

“To prepare our students for success in the global economy, we must encourage innovations and we must invest in technology that can advance learning and achievement,” said Governor Chafee. “We are pleased to provide this support for the students and educators at the Pleasant View Elementary School, and we hope to move forward with the technology bond I have proposed that will bring broadband wireless access to every classroom in Rhode Island.”

“I am committed to improving public education across Providence and equipping our students with the necessary skills to compete.” said Mayor Angel Taveras. “Through this grant, I am confident that Pleasant View will set a model for other schools across the city to improve technology access and resources for all students.”

“Today, we are taking a significant step that will bring the Pleasant View Elementary School and other schools across our state to the forefront of virtual learning,” said Commissioner Gist. “Our students, teachers, and families already use digital technology in every facet of their lives – and it is time we bring digital learning into our schools in a bold and dramatic way.”

“We are so thrilled for Pleasant View Elementary,” said Dr. Susan Lusi, Superintendent of Providence Schools. “Dr. Field and her team have put enormous efforts into creating a vision for the future of the school, and this funding gives them the traction and the resources to begin immediately executing that vision to improve student achievement and make Pleasant View a top-notch place for teaching and learning.”

With this grant, Pleasant View Elementary School will:

  • implement an extended daily schedule for targeted, small-group learning;
  • increase student-centered instruction and instructional time;
  • allow students to spend at least half their school day with online learning;
  • make content come alive with integrated multimedia experiences through technology;
  • allow students to proceed with learning at their own pace;
  • adopt flexible schedules for instructional time; and
  • redefine “classrooms” as “flexible learning environments."

Pleasant View will use these funds for extensive professional development for teachers as well as to purchase equipment – creating three computer labs and purchasing 110 laptops for student use.

In January, RIDE announced a grant of up to $470,000 over two years to support the redesign of a school that will use technology to transform education and encouraged all school districts, state-operated schools, and charter public schools to apply for this Innovation Powered by Technology Model School Grant.

RIDE asked applicants to propose a school site at which they would create a technology-rich learning environment that would fundamentally rethink and restructure teaching and learning through such initiatives as digital curriculum, gaming, one-to-one computing, virtual-learning environments, expanded learning opportunities, and flexible scheduling.

As the recipient of the grant, Pleasant View will become a pilot program to help launch a statewide initiative in innovations powered by technology. Pleasant View will launch implementation during the coming school year (2012-13) and refine the process during the 2013-14 school year.

RIDE awarded the grant through a competitive-bid process, based in part on student need. A team from RIDE and a team of outside experts reviewed 12 grant applications as part of the award process.

Editorial note: Written from a press release.

Full disclosure: Sigh. Only 12 applications? It's a cliche, but you miss 100% of the shots you don't take. I understand that Portsmouth was not able to mount a grant application in this timeframe, but I wish the school committee pushed more on innovation rather than their laser-like focus on cost containment. I mean, really, what's more important for our kids — technology-enabled classrooms or outsourcing custodial staff?

Localblogging, 02871, RIDE, edtech

RIDE Commissioner Gist updates General Assembly on 2011 accomplishments

In her annual "State of Education" address to the Rhode Island General Assembly last night, RI Dept. of Ed Commissioner Deborah Gist surveyed the accomplishments of educators around the state and updated progress on state-wide initiatives.

“Even in these tough economic times, when other states are cutting funding and programs, Rhode Island remains committed to public education,” Gist said in remarks distributed to the media. “People around the country recognize that Rhode Island is leading the way in public education – and we should be proud of that!”

During the address, Gist cited accomplishments from the past year, including significant improvements on the National Assessment for Educational Progress (“The Nation’s Report Card”) and receipt of a $50M Federal Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grant – making Rhode Island one of only six states to receive two Race to the Top awards.

She also highlighted statewide education initiatives, including training more than 4,300 educators in the new, world-class Common Core standards, developing user-friendly data systems to provide better reports for the public and to provide teachers with information about the strengths and needs of their students, and building the Uniform Chart of Accounts (UCOA) to provide all school leaders and the public with information and guidance on school spending.

Gist emphasized that her highest priority is ensuring that Rhode Island has excellent teachers in every classroom.

“Our teachers are first and foremost professionals. As professionals, teachers need and deserve the latitude and the responsibility to make decisions within their classrooms,” Gist said. “Our goal is to create a climate in every school where teachers can be innovative, creative, and accountable for results.”

Full text of Comm. Gist's address (pdf)
Fact sheet on RI schools that are "Leading the Way"(pdf)

Editorial note: Written from a press release.

Localblogging, 02871, RIDE, Gist

Gist weighs in on layoff notice law

RI Commissioner of Education Deborah Gist issued a statement today supporting efforts by legislators (including Aquidneck Island Sen. Lou DiPalma's bill S2158) to move the notification date for teacher layoffs from March 1 to June 1. Here's the text of the Commissioner's statement:

The requirement that school committees must provide educators with layoff notices by a March 1 deadline is a ridiculous exercise that has to be stopped. This arbitrary deadline serves no purpose except to add to the stress of teachers who are working hard every day to provide our students with a world-class education.

I do believe that when school committees face difficult decisions about laying off teachers and other educators, teachers deserve to receive timely notice of these pending layoffs that may affect their livelihoods and their careers.

The current state law that sets a March 1 notification deadline may be well intentioned, but it has led to unintended consequences. Because the March 1 deadline falls early in the budget process, well before school districts are certain about their state aid and local revenues, school committees feel compelled to notify many or all educators about pending layoffs – even though the members of the school committee know that many or all of the teachers will ultimately retain their jobs.

Laying off hundreds of educators because of an imposed notification deadline leads to undue stress and anxiety and can disrupt the process of teaching and learning. I do believe that teachers and other educators need to know in a timely manner when their jobs may be in jeopardy, but information they receive on March 1 is not meaningful. I support the proposed legislation from Sen. Louis P. DiPalma and Rep. J. Russell Jackson that would move the notification date to June 1, by which time school committees have much more information about their finances.

No educator or school-committee member takes any pleasure in the process of layoffs, but we can all agree that the process should be done in a way that is in line with the budget process, is fair to teachers, and is in the best interest of our students.

Editorial note: Written from a press release.

Localblogging, 02871, RIDE

Educators ponder tech innovation in Rhode Island

Comm. Gist introduces (l-r) Gov. Bob Wise, Allison Powell, Tom Vander Ark

More than 300 teachers, administrators, and education professionals met at Rhode Island College today for the first-ever "Innovation Powered by Technology (IPT) conference, convened by the RI Dept. of Education (RIDE). Attendees from across the state spent six hours hearing from nationally recognized experts, doing deep-dive breakouts, and networking with counterparts from other districts.

One of the goals of the conference was to jumpstart participants' creative thinking as they gear up for a newly announced RIDE IPT Model School Grant program, which will award $470K to a district to redesign a school by leveraging technology.

Commissioner Deborah Gist, who convened the conference, urged the attendees to think big as she kicked off the day. "Try to imagine what schools will look like in just a few years," she said. "I sometimes marvel at sitting and doing [videochats] with my sister and think, 'this is something that only used to happen on The Jetsons'. Imagine what's possible."

In what became something of a running metaphor throughout the day, Gist recounted an anecdote about a very bumpy plane flight where the pilot announced to the passengers that they were experiencing "constructive turbulence" — so called because the tail wind was going to bring them to their destination sooner.

It was a theme picked up by one of the first panelists as they sketched a big picture of the future. "On the way, it's a white-knuckle ride," said Bob Wise, former governor of West Virginia and president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, adding that the only certain thing was that "each classroom in each school will look different."

One thing that Allison Powell, VP of State and District Services at the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) was certain of is that teachers are not going away. "I envision classrooms where kids all have technology, and are able to work at their own pace," she said, adding, "Face-to-face interaction is important; the teacher is key to all this."

Tom Vander Ark, author of Getting Smart, urged attendees to consider the future as a lot closer than might be imagined. "You need to plan today," he said. With prices dropping and the rest of the world leapfrogging America, "You're going to see countries like the Philippines that will flip to tablets. You're going to see whole countries running their education on sub-$100 tabs."

Wise agreed. "The main misconception is that you have a choice. We can't do the same thing any more."

With that burning platform for change established, the second panel tackled options for creative restructuring of schools.

It was all about personalization for Michael Horn, Executive Director of Education at Innosight Institute, co-author of Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. "It should be a very intentional shift to personalizing learning for what each student needs." And, he added, "It should be exactly the steps to reach those children who are having the most issues."

Jeff Mao, the learning policy director at the Maine Dept. of Ed talked about the importance of breaking out of our current concepts of the school house. "We need to get beyond Adult Paradigm Paralysis — APP — and leadership is what really makes these things move. It's not a technology program, it's a learning program."

Anthony Kim, founder of Education Elements stressed design thinking. "It's an iterative process, and you need to start by thinking about the end state," he said. "It takes time to get there. You can't expect everyone to be there on day one."

The panelists offered their specific advice to districts approaching the tech grant process. "There are some good models out there. Look at what's going on in other schools, but don't be constrained," said Horn. "If you can't get to 1:1 [ratio of device to student], find some ways to leverage." For Mao, the pre-work was critical. "Build a shared vision across constituencies of where you're going and why," he said. "Make sure you start with solutions and educational goals, and don't start with the hardware." Kim also spotlighted working backward from goals. "Think about what you're preparing students for: college." He suggested designing the kind of school that would provide preparation. "Create that kind of environment."

After the two morning panels, the attendees broke into small topic-focused groups. In Jeff Mao's "Access to Technology," participants peppered Mao with questions about bandwidth, security, and hardware selection. One key takeaway for me was Mao's insight about device multiplication. "It's not if you're going to 1:1, it's when," he said, "But then, you have to start thinking about 2:1 and 3:1." Kids are walking around with phones and iPods, he noted, and it's better to leverage than ignore them.

In the second pre-lunch group, Allison Powell talked about communication, and fielded a series of questions about the best way to engage all stakeholders — including the sometimes-fearful staff members. "You need buy in from everyone," she said, stressing the need to involve groups like guidance counselors, paraprofessionals, and especially the tech guys. "But don't let them dictate," she said.

The group had a working lunch — pasta and salad — as they sat around tables color-coded for "birds of a feather" discussion topics. Then it was time for a series of deep-dive breakouts.

Portsmouth resident Dave Fontaine ran a session on open educational resources, higlighting the free, open-source options available for schools. Two wonderful resources he demonstrated were CK-12 and Curriki.

CK-12 offers "Flexbooks," a free library of peer-reviewed STEM textbooks which can be printed, PDFd, or read online, with many downloadable in a variety of e-reader formats. What makes them "Flex" books is the cool web interface that allows registered users, with just a few clicks, to mix and match chapters to assemble a customized package (Imagine a customized physics text that had a chapter or two of calculus built right in.)

Curriki (a portmanteau of "curriculum" and "wiki") offers educators a read-write environment where they can upload, revise, share, and rate curricular materials, with a search engine that allows educators to filter the collection by grade and subject. And just by signing up, educators can upload and share their materials. "Imagine common plannign time or professional development spent doing open-source curriculum development," said Fontaine. "What we educators have been doing for years is giving away our knowledge. This just adds a tech twist."

In the second session, Tom Vander Ark engaged a small group of attendees in a discussion of the possibilities and challenges of tech innovation. The technologies ranged from simple games and simulations — like those at PhET — to the thick descriptions available to teachers from a student's day-long interactions with "learning objects."

"Think about how much Google knows about you, and compare that to how much we know about our kids," said Vander Ark. "The shift to big data, when we can capture and mine keystroke data and mine that for individual learning patterns will enable customized learning driven by 'smart' learner profiles." He cited New York's School of One as a possible adaptive curriculum model, where students arrive in the morning and find their schedule for the day on LED signboards. Students rotate through six different centers, with their specific experiences programmed by data-driven analysis to meet their needs for that particular day. Imagine a small group with a teacher, said Vander Ark, where the algorithm has determined, "That's the right mode, the right day, with the students prepared for that lesson. That's magic. Smart tools that get teachers and kids together at the right time."

The wide-ranging discussion did not minimize the challenges. The perpetual arms race with cheating, the question of print literacy vs. the digital, and the challenge of local control all came up. And the grip of the local can be hard to shake, said Vander Ark, "But, come September, shame on you if every student in Rhode Island doesn't have access to every AP course and every language. Technologically, you can do that."

And a bit further out, there is the emerging challenge of comparability. When students take many individualized paths to mastery, how can these be aligned so that teachers and administrators can confidently assess progress. "Right now we don't have a good way to compare the results of diferent assessments," said Vander Ark. But he suggested that big data pointed the way. "This is something we're going to have to invent around the Common Core -- how different systems translate. We need a kind of Lexile scale, so that if a kid is in 12 different apps during the day, we can make sense of of it when it lands in the grade book."

The attendees reassembled for a final comment from Commissioner Gist, who acknowledged that the agenda was still very conference-like, and promised that this was only the first iteration of RIDE's vision. "We have big plans for how we move this forward, including future gatherings like this, using technology." After a raffle of door prizes (including a Middletown HS junior who took home an iPad!) the event concluded shortly after 3pm.

You can review the real-time conference Twitter feed here.

Editorial note: Long-time readers will know that I have differed with the Commissioner in the past on issues of funding, but when it comes to technology in our schools, I believe we are in alignment. We had a very nice chat after the conference, and I thanked her for organizing this event, and for her leadership. I think this is critical for our schools and our kids. Thanks to Comm. Gist, organizer Holly Walsh, all the folks at RIDE who worked to make the conference happen, and the hundreds of educators from around the state who gave up their Saturday to push this forward.

Localblogging, 02871, Schools, IT stuff, RIDE

RI reports mostly improved student scores on "Nation's Report Card"

Rhode Island students performed at or above average on all four math and reading tests on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the RI Dept. of Education (RIDE) announced this morning. Results released today for the NAEP, sometimes referred to as the "Nation's Report Card," show that Rhode Island students in grade 4 scored above the national average in both mathematics and reading, and students in grade 8 scored at the national average in mathematics and above the national average in reading.

Rhode Island was one of only 3 states (plus the District of Columbia) to improve in both grade-4 and grade-8 mathematics, and Rhode Island is the only state (plus the District of Columbia) to improve in both mathematics assessments on the previous (2009) and the current Report Card.

This year, 34 percent of Rhode Island 8th-graders were proficient in mathematics, an increase of 6 percentage points. In grade 4, 43 percent of Rhode Island students were proficient in mathematics this year, an increase of 4 percentage points.

“For the first time since the NAEP assessments began, more than 20 years ago, Rhode Island students have met or surpassed the national average in all reading and mathematics tests,” said Governor Lincoln D. Chafee. “This is great news for our state, and it shows that our schools are moving in the right direction and advancing student achievement across the board. I congratulate all of our students, teachers, and administrators who have made all Rhode Islanders proud of their achievement.”

Reading results released today show that 35 percent of Rhode Island 4th-graders were proficient, a drop of 1 percentage point – but still higher than the national average. In grade-8 reading, 33 percent of Rhode Island students were proficient, an increase of 5 percentage points.

“I am very pleased at the progress our students have made on the NAEP assessments, particularly the strong gains in mathematics over the past four years,” said George D. Caruolo, Chairman of the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education. “Today’s results show that our strategic investments in developing curriculum, improving instruction, and ensuring educator excellence will benefit our students and our state for years to come.”

Among the 52 states and jurisdictions, Rhode Island ranked 23rd in grade-4 mathematics, 21st in grade-4 reading, and 30th in grade 8 (in both mathematics and reading). Each ranking is an improvement over the 2009 results.

Achievement gaps remain a significant problem in Rhode Island, with black and Hispanic students, students living in poverty, students with disabilities, and English-language learners scoring below state averages on all four assessments.

Some student groups did make significant progress in the percent who achieved proficiency, however, particularly in mathematics, including a gain of 6 percentage points for students in poverty in grade 4, a gain of 4 percentage points for students in poverty in grade 8, and a gain of 5 percentage points for Hispanic students in grade 8.

Hispanic students in Rhode Island are no longer the lowest-scoring in the country, as they were in 2009.

“All Rhode Islanders should be proud of the progress our students have made in mathematics and reading over the past four years,” said Deborah A Gist, Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education. “Until this year, our mathematics scores have never been above the national average, and our grade-8 reading scores have been below the national average since 2007. While I remain concerned about our achievement gaps, I am confident that we are on the right path and that, with excellent teachers in every classroom and excellent leaders in every school, we can close these achievement gaps and prepare all of our students for success.”

A selected sample of 4th-grade and 8th-grade students (about 11,800) from across the state took the NAEP mathematics and reading tests from January through March of 2011. NCES releases statewide results for grades 4 and 8 only; it releases no results at the school or district level.

The R.I. Department of Education (RIDE) will post further information on the Rhode Island NAEP scores on the RIDE Web site: http://www.ride.ri.gov/Division-EEIE/Office_IAC.aspx.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has posted information about the NAEP reading results on its site: http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard

Editorial note: Written from a press release.

Localblogging, 02871, education, RIDE

RIDE Commisioner Gist vists Portsmouth on May 31

RI Commissioner of Education Deborah Gist will visit Portsmouth Middle School and hold a community forum from 6:30-8pm on Tuesday, May 31 as part of her 2010-11 "Listening and Learning Tour," according to a press release.

The R.I. Department of Education (RIDE) has posted a schedule of the Listening and Learning Tour on their web site.

Editorial note: Written from a press release.

Localblogging, 02871, Schools, RIDE

RIDE announces new uniform chart of accounts data website

The RI Dept. of Education (RIDE) launched a new data-packed web site today which makes available to the public the information from the state-wide Uniform Chart of Accounts (UCOA) for school districts, according to a news release this morning.

“Rhode Islanders invest more than $2 billion a year in public education, and this investment is vital to the future of our state,” said Gov. Chafee in a statement. “The Uniform Chart of Accounts will help all Rhode Islanders understand how we invest taxpayer dollars and what return we’re getting on our investment.”

RIDE developed the UCOA in partnership with the Auditor General and all school districts in the state to provide a system of numbers and a method of accounting that provides transparency, uniformity, accountability, and comparability of financial information for all schools and districts. All districts, charter public schools, and state-operated schools began operating under UCOA during the previous fiscal or school year (2009-10).

School districts will use UCOA to track revenues and expenditures in their day-to-day accounting and to inform their financial decisions. UCOA will help districts ensure that they are using their investments to improve instruction and to advance learning.

“At RIDE, we will use UCOA to identify effective practices,” said RIDE Commissioner Deborah Gist. “Using the UCOA system, we can examine our data to see where investments in education have led to improved student achievement. More important, we will share this information in order to help all schools and districts invest their resources wisely.”

Visit the UCOA site

Editorial note: Written substantially from a press release. There's a firehose of data on the site, which will take some time to explore.

Localblogging, 02871, Schools, RIDE

Gist cancels today's Portsmouth visit

Today's visit to Portsmouth by RI Dept. of Education Commissioner Deborah Gist has been canceled, according to a note distributed on the district listserv:

Dear Members of the Portsmouth Community:

The forum with Commissioner Deborah Gist that was scheduled for this evening from 6:30 to 8 PM is cancelled. The Commissioner will reschedule her visit to Portsmouth at a time when she is also able to visit schools.

Susan F. Lusi, Ph.D

Localblogging, 02871, Schools, RIDE, Gist

RIDE Commisioner Gist vists Portsmouth this Thursday

RI Dept. of Education Commissioner Deborah Gist will be holding a public session at the Portsmouth Middle School this Thursday, Jan 27, from 6:30-8pm, according to a flyer sent to parents:

Transforming Education in Rhode Island: A Conversation with Commissioner Deborah Gist

Would you like an update on the status of public education in Rhode Island?

Would you like to talk to Commissioner Gist about the schools in your community?

To hear what Rhode Islanders are thinking and share ideas about education, the Commissioner will visit every school district in the state during the 2010-11 school year.

Portsmouth will hold a community forum with the Commissioner on Thursday, 1/27, 6:30 - 8 pm, at the Middle School Little Theater. See you there!

Indeed. See you there.

Localblogging, 02871, RIDE, Gist