Developing Systems for Effective, Equitable Education for All Students
By Stacey Pusey
It’s a common story: the energetic principal who comes into a school, revamps the curriculum, creates innovative learning practices, and then leaves with no sustainability plan. Or, while the kids in that one school thrive, others across the district are left behind. Unfortunately, many schools and districts are still relying on individuals or looking for that magic program rather than developing educational systems that provide a high-quality, modern education for all students.
During the “National Coalition for Technology in Education and Training (NCTET) Virtual Post-Inauguration Awards and Policy Panel,” the presenters discussed the intersection of technology and education and what’s needed to create sustainable, equitable access to a 21st century education.
First, districts need to address the digital divide/homework gap in meaningful ways. Even before the pandemic and the shift to distance education, learning extended beyond the classroom. Teachers were sending students home to do additional research, expand their skills, and complete schoolwork—all requiring connectivity and devices. Educators have known, though, for quite a while about the homework gap, said Becky Pringle, National Education Association (NEA) President, and that Black, Brown, and Indigenous populations are more likely to suffer from the gap. In addition, students living in poverty or in remote locations have less access to WiFi and technology.
Another aspect of the digital divide includes teachers. Even once distance learning is no longer the norm, teachers need to be able to access their tools and work from home. However, many teachers don’t have WiFi (whether because they also live in a remote area or for other reasons) or the devices needed for the functionality that’s expected today. What’s needed to address the digital divide for all is sustainable, dedicated funding that allows districts to meet the needs of the community. Pringle said that the NEA is currently working with the FCC on how to get increased investment in the E-rate program because, through that program, dollars can be distributed in an equitable manner.
Next, although teachers may have the technology, they might not understand how to use it effectively, especially for remote learning. Most colleges don’t have classes on how to teach when you don’t have WiFi or even just how to connect virtually with students, said Dr. Tiffany Anderson, Superintendent of Topeka Public Schools (KS). Kids don’t have time to wait, so school leaders need to make professional learning a high priority.
In her district, Dr. Anderson’s staff have access to a variety of resources, including a video series where teachers model lessons with students and professional development courses using webinars and other tools that teachers will use with their students. The paraprofessionals also receive devices and professional learning that support their work. In order to achieve this, her district had to redirect funding, but like the NEA’s work with the E-rate, Dr. Anderson believes that in the future there needs to be a high priority on funding so they can provide teachers with resources to help close the gap for everyone.
Besides exposing the digital divide, the pandemic also showed how many schools are just behind overall in integrating technology, said Dr. Don Haddad, Superintendent of St. Vrain Valley School District (CO). In his district, their journey to digital equity began in 2008 when they realized if they kept education as is, they would be preparing children for a world that no longer exists. Instead, they focused on a systematic approach that included bringing the community together to support new funding initiatives; reorganizing curricula, instruction, IT, and operations to create a learning tech team; making sure they have the bandwidth for all students, teachers, and staff to be online; providing devices for all staff and students; and providing continuous professional development.
In addition, they reexamined how to build consistency into their learning management system, how to train parents on using the technology, and placed technology coaches into every school for on-site support. In other words, they approached technology integration from every aspect of the school and developed a system that supports digital learning success for every member of the community.
The goal for these districts, though, wasn’t just an increase in using technology but in how it could help their students prepare for jobs of the future. They wanted to help students develop skills that businesses value, like creativity, communication, and problem solving. However, both Dr. Haddad and Dr. Anderson noted standardized testing has impeded their ability to provide the type of education that’s consistent with the needs of the 21st century. The scores help students get into programs, but don’t help them figure out who they are, what they know, and what they should focus on next.
Finally, the presenters emphasized the need to make sure that when developing these systems, districts make sure students have equitable opportunities. “[We need to] transform [education] into something that it was never designed to be, and that is a racially and socially just and equitable system that prepares every student—every single one—to succeed in a diverse and interdependent world to live into their brilliance,” said Pringle.
This edWeb broadcast was sponsored by the National Coalition for Technology in Education and Training.
About the Presenters
The president and founder of Bernstein Strategy Group, Jon Bernstein has been working on education, education technology and telecommunications issues since 1995 and running his own government relations firm since 2005. Currently, Jon serves as the co-chair of the Education & Libraries Networks Coalition and the Homework Gap Big Tent Coalition, and as Executive Director of the National Coalition for Technology in Education and Training. Prior to launching BSG, Jon served as Vice President at Leslie Harris & Associates, an attorney advisor with the Federal Communications Commission, a lobbyist for the National Education Association, and Legislative Counsel with The Lightspan Partnership. His first policy job was as a legislative fellow for Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). Jon received his JD from the Northwestern University School of Law and his BA from Colgate University.
Amanda Karhuse has served as the director of advocacy for the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) since 2006. She led the creation of the NASSP Policy & Advocacy Center, which is the only national center devoted solely to the advancement of policies and practices that support principals, assistant principals, and other school leaders. In this role, she coordinates all federal policy and advocacy efforts for NASSP and assists the Board of Directors in developing position statements and policy recommendations on issues of national significance. Currently, Amanda serves as President of NCTET. Prior to her tenure at NASSP, she was a senior editor for the Women’s Congressional Policy Institute and worked for former Congresswoman Karen L. Thurman (D-FL). Amanda has a BA from the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, VA, and a master’s from the Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University in Washington, DC.
Dr. John B. King, Jr. is the president and CEO of The Education Trust, a national nonprofit organization that seeks to identify and close educational opportunity and achievement gaps. Dr. King served as U.S. Secretary of Education in the Obama administration. Prior to that role, he carried out the duties of Deputy Secretary, overseeing policies and programs related to P-12 education, English learners, special education, innovation, and agency operations. He joined the department following his post as New York State Education Commissioner. Dr. King began his career as a high school social studies teacher and middle school principal.
Tiffany Anderson, Ed.D. has been a public school educator for over 26 years, with the majority of that time as Superintendent. She has improved achievement and closed achievement gaps for students of poverty in rural, urban and suburban public school districts. In 2016, Dr. Anderson became the first African-American female superintendent of Topeka Public Schools, in Topeka, Kansas, where the landmark Brown vs. Board case ended legal segregation. Under Dr. Anderson’s leadership, Topeka Public Schools doubled their college course offerings, student attendance increased above 90%, ACT participation increased, and achievement scores and graduation rates have steadily increased across the district. Since Dr. Anderson arrived in Topeka, the district has earned three national Magna Awards, one of which is for their work in equity. Dr. Anderson was one of Education Week’s 16 leaders to learn from, she was selected a 2020 Kansas Icon in Education by Ingram, and she was a 2020 finalist for Kansas Superintendent of the Year.
NEA President Becky Pringle is a fierce social justice warrior, defender of educator rights, an unrelenting advocate for all students and communities of color, and a valued and respected voice in the education arena. A middle school science teacher with 31 years of classroom experience, Becky is singularly focused on using her intellect, passion, and purpose to unite the members of the largest labor union with the entire nation, and using that collective power to fulfill the promise of public education. Before assuming NEA’s top post, Becky served as NEA Vice President and before that as NEA Secretary-Treasurer. She co-chaired NEA’s Task Force on School Discipline and the School to Prison Pipeline and led NEA’s work to transform the education professions and improve student learning. Becky started as a local president, and then went on to serve on the Board of Directors for NEA and the Pennsylvania State Education Association.
Dr. Don Haddad has served in education for 36 years. He was selected as Superintendent of Schools for the St. Vrain Valley School District in 2009 and was named 2013 Superintendent of the Year by the National Association of School Superintendents. He was honored with the 2010 Communicator of the Year Award from COSPRA and the 2011 Technology Administrator of the Year Award from the Colorado Association of Leaders in Educational Technology. SVVSD won the i3 Grant for $3.6 million and was one of 16 districts nationwide awarded the 2012 Race to the Top Grant for $16.8 million. SVVSD received several awards from various chambers of commerce and economic councils, and was awarded the Consortium for School Networking’s Leading Education Innovation Award in 2018, the ISTE District of Distinction Award in 2019, and the Colorado Succeeds Excellence Award for Technology-Enabled Learning. Dr. Haddad has served on several community Boards of Directors throughout his tenure.
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Leadership and Innovation is a free professional learning community on edWeb.net that serves as an online forum for collaboration on leadership and innovation in schools to meet the needs of the next generation.
Launched in 1993 to help policymakers develop sound federal educational technology programs, NCTET today brings together thought and organizational leaders from the public and private sectors to provide information on the increasing value and importance of technology in ensuring equity in educational opportunities for all learners.
Stacey Pusey is an education communications consultant and writer. She assists education organizations with content strategy and teaches writing at the college level. Stacey has worked in the preK-12 education world for 20 years, spending time on school management and working for education associations including the AAP PreK-12 Learning Group. Stacey is working with edWeb.net as a marketing communications advisor and writer.