The Education Innovator #31
Volume III
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The Education Innovator
 August 29, 2005 • Number 31
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What's inside...
Quantum Simulations, Inc.
What's New
Grant awards for Credit Enhancement for Charter School Facilities program announced; Ready to Learn grantees announced; CPRE posts study of high schools and accountability on web; ASCD to sponsor conference on teaching and learning; Fordham Foundation publishes Charter School Funding: Inequity's Next Frontier, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools releases statement on charter school quality and accountability; NGA and the University of Minnesota release Providing Quality Choice Options in Education; NetDay releases report on students' views of technology; and Ball State University partners with Paws, Inc. to create Garfield educational website.
Innovations in the News
Charter schools in Washington, DC receive $15 million in federal funding; plus information about reading, raising student achievement, and school reform.

Quantum's Artificial Intelligence Helps Boost Student Intelligence
Log on to the Quantum Simulations website, and you will discover that the artificial intelligence (AI) of a computer tutor is not science fiction. The software developed for the "Quantum Tutors," an online, on-demand tutoring system, is based on the teaching practices of Dale Holder, a master teacher who taught high school chemistry and mathematics in the Kentucky public school system for 35 years. Since Mr. Holder taught his students using methods that allowed them to observe, question, and become actively engaged in subject matter, the Quantum Tutors are based on the premise that students learn best through an inquiry-based instructional approach. Quantum's main goal is for students to "develop a disposition toward inquiry" so that they become not just better students of math and science, but better overall learners.

During an inquiry-based learning experience, a student asks the tutor questions, conducts experiments, thinks critically, and evaluates previous misconceptions. If a struggling student takes a percentage problem to a Quantum Tutor, he can access help online at the Quantum website via the "Applied Mathematics for Science" modules, which are designed for students in the fifth through ninth grades. The Tutors cover the core mathematics skills required for high school science including measurement, ratio and proportion, scientific notation, metric units, and percentages. Any visitor can enter an exact problem into a dialogue box on the computer screen. If a student does not know how to begin solving a problem, the student can ask the Tutor what the first step should be to find the solution.

Similar to the way someone would normally use pencil and paper, the student can work through a problem on the computer screen. If a student's initial difficulty with his percentage question has to do with confusion about mathematical vocabulary, the Tutor can look up key terms such as percentages or ratios. A "General Questions" dropdown menu also can help the student build enough understanding and confidence to move on to the next step in solving the problem.

Once the student begins entering work into the computer, the Tutor coaches the student through the solution process using "dynamically generated" questions. This menu of questions continuously evolves as the student works through a problem. For example, if a mistake is made, the Tutor will explain why this answer is incorrect or if it is unreasonable. The menu of generated questions also changes, based on the student's particular errors. Quantum's artificial intelligence is programmed to help with common user mistakes, and when an unexpected mistake is made, the Tutor can help the student work toward the correct response by using a conceptually based feedback method called "Consistency Rules." This technology can give the student direction to the right answer, even when a specific procedure that led to the student's wrong answer cannot be pinpointed. In this way, the Tutor can respond meaningfully to any error the student makes.

During each tutoring session, Quantum stores a running transcript at the bottom of the computer screen, which includes the student's questions and work, and the Tutor's feedback concerning the student's calculations. This transcript may be emailed to a teacher, printed, or saved for later use. Since the Quantum Tutors recognize different types of specific math and science problems, the software is compatible with any curriculum and gives targeted assistance to students.

For students studying higher-level science, Quantum offers a chemistry module that covers first-year high school and college chemistry topics such as measurement, the elements, ionic compound formulas, and balancing equations. Just as with the mathematics module, students are free to explore, ask as many questions as they wish, and even make mistakes without risking embarrassment in front of their teachers or peers. Using a non-judgmental, online environment, students can test core concepts, processes, and procedures so that they perform better in the classroom.

Students who are blind or visually impaired can also benefit from Quantum Tutors. The program uses a dialogue-driven tool that converses with students, which is compatible with technology used by those who are blind to navigate the Internet. Quantum plans to make all of its tutoring programs fully accessible to students who are blind within two years. Funds from a recent grant awarded to Quantum by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) through the National Eye Institute are being used to conduct research into the best methods of accommodating this population of tutees.

Since Quantum's inception, students have reported satisfaction with the artificial intelligence Tutors. During a pilot test of the Quantum program in classrooms in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and California, 90 percent of the students surveyed reported that they would use Quantum again and would recommend it to friends who needed academic help. These students also reported that they appreciated the "just-in-time" delivery of services, as Quantum is available to students 24 hours a day from any Internet-enabled computer.

Data support students' academic achievement when using the program, as well. For example, at Carmichaels Area Junior/Senior High School in Pennsylvania, students using the Quantum Tutors as part of their at-home study routine for one week outperformed a control group on chemistry post-tests on balancing chemical equations by an average of 12.8 points, or just over one full letter grade. In another study done on the effectiveness of Quantum for tutoring in the area of oxidation numbers at Duquesne University, the students using Quantum were almost three times as likely to score 80 percent or higher on post-tests compared to students who did not use the tutoring system.

In preparation for the No Child Left Behind science assessments, scheduled to begin in the 2006-2007 school year, Wexford Institute, a nonprofit agency dedicated to equitable educational opportunity, is conducting additional research on the effectiveness of the Quantum Tutors. To date, more than 2,000 students and teachers have participated in research studies across the country, and results show that the use of Quantum Tutors has increased test scores by as much as 50 percent.

Quantum Tutors was recognized as a "Benchmark Technology for No Child Left Behind" in 2004 at the U.S. Department of Education's Leadership Summit, and was a finalist for the Software & Information Industry Association's Codie Awards. Additionally, the California Learning Resource Network recently identified Quantum as "an approved learning resource," complying with the state's academic content standards. The U.S. Department of Education funded the creation of Quantum Simulations through a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant and continues to support Quantum's work on developing artificial intelligence assessment technology through the Mathematics and Science Education Research program.

Resources: Note: The featured program is innovative; however, it does not have evidence of effectiveness from a rigorous evaluation.


What's New
From the Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII)

Five grants have been awarded for the Credit Enhancement for Charter School Facilities program. The grantees collectively will serve about 48,000 students in 120 charter schools in California, Delaware, Texas, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. Funds are provided on a competitive basis to help charter schools obtain facilities by purchasing, leasing, and receiving donations. Grantees may also use grant funds to help charter schools construct and renovate facilities. (August 18)

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and a Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) affiliate, WTTW in Chicago, have been awarded Ready to Learn grants from the U.S. Department of Education through OII. CPB also was awarded funding for outreach. This year, the grant competition was divided into two components, one dedicated to programming and the other to outreach, in order to better serve the target audience of disadvantaged students. (August 17)


The Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE) has posted Holding High Hopes: How High Schools Respond to State Accountability Policies PDF, (500K), on its website. The study analyzes the activities of 48 low-performing high schools in 34 school districts across six states and reveals that accountability can be a strong motivating force for change in high schools. Districts were seen as the strongest outside influence on the schools, and building district capacity and incentives for interventions were viewed as critical elements for school improvement. The research for this report was funded by a grant from the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. (August 30)

Charter Schools

The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation has released Charter School Funding: Inequity's Next Frontier, a study of how states fund public charter schools and how their revenues compare to funding received by district-run schools. Across 16 states and the District of Columbia (which enroll about 84 percent of all charter school students), charter schools receive about 22 percent less in per-pupil funding than district schools. (August 2005)

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools is looking to "renew the compact," reinvigorating the charter school movement with a statement from the Task Force on Charter School Quality and Accountability. The document asserts that the freedom for charter school innovation must be protected, accountability for results must be clearer, and high levels of student achievement must remain the most important objective. The Alliance, formerly known as the Charter School Leadership Council, notes that charter schools work when they are properly implemented. (August 2005)


The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Center for School Change at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs have released Providing Quality Choice Options in Education. This report states that governors are expanding education options to help exceed their statewide education goals. It also details school choice strategies being used to improve student achievement and raise graduation rates and reviews a variety of state choice policies. Development of the report was funded by a grant from OII. (August 18)

School Improvement

Registration is now open for the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development's (ASCD) 2005 conference on teaching and learning. The conference, entitled Student Achievement: The Broader Picture, will open with a pre-conference institute on October 22 with general sessions running from October 23 through 25 in San Francisco (CA). Sessions will include "What Works in Schools: Translating Research into Action" and "Reading Strategies for the Content Areas." (August 30)


Visions 2020.2: Student Views on Transforming Education and Training Through Advanced Technologies. From responses of over 55,000 K-12 students, four themes emerged in the report: devices (particularly small, voice-activated, multi-functional devices); 2. access to computers and the internet (high-speed, wireless Internet access for use in school or home); 3. intelligent tutors (providing help with math and other homework, as well as access to a single information resource); and 4. ways to learn and complete school work using technology (e-books, distance learning, and personalized learning). (August 21)

Garfield is the "big cat on campus" at Ball State University. He is getting new attention on a free website created as a collaborative effort among the University's Business Fellows Program and Teachers College, and Garfield's creative group, Paws, Inc, among others. The site is filled with educational games, exercises, demonstrations, and even some comic strips. Students can climb into the "Knowledge Box" to play math, social studies, and language arts games, while teachers can download lesson plans and printable incentive items. The website was launched this month. (August 30)


Innovations in the News

Charter Schools
Charter schools in the nation's capital will receive more than $15 million in federal funding over the next three years as a result of a Charter School Program grant from OII. Almost two dozen charter schools will operate on 31 campuses this academic year. Local and federal officials participated in an event to celebrate the funding at Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School. Among the invited guests were Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Nina S. Rees, Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement at the U.S. Department of Education. Ms. Rees noted, "Over 15,000 students in DC are attending charter schools, and that's about 21 percent of the students in the District." [More-The Washington Times] (August 24) [free registration]

For some students in Rhode Island, their summer vacations are filled with Quidditch games, expeditions to Mount Everest, and stories about civil rights struggles. These students participate in summer reading programs, which are mandatory in many of the state's schools. At Curtis Corner Middle School in South Kingstown, students may choose which books they prefer from a recommended list, which includes Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and an autobiography by Jamling Tenzing Norgay. State standards require that all students read 25 books per year. The summer reading requirements help students reach that 25-book goal, and parents and teachers note that the programs help students retain important skills over the summer break. Some schools request that students write book reviews, while others test students on their summer reading during the first weeks of September. [More-The Providence Journal] (August 23) [free registration]

Raising Student Achievement
Although 66 percent of Hawaii's public schools failed to meet higher goals under the No Child Left Behind Act, based on the latest annual scores, areas of positive growth show that marked improvement is possible. Some schools that fell short in the past have met the higher standards this year. Interventions at these schools have reaped positive results in student achievement. At Kahalu'u Elementary, for example, the entire teaching staff engaged in a brainstorming session to develop lesson plans targeted at areas where students' performance was weak. Last year the school focused on geometry, and test results showed that students' test scores improved from 20 percent proficiency the year before to 84 percent proficiency last year. At Jarrett Middle School, students may participate in subsidized summer school programs and after-school tutoring. [More-The Honolulu Advertiser] (August 23)

This year, Oregon schools made record improvements in raising the achievement of minority and low-income students on state exams. For example, passing rates for the state's Latino fifth-grade students increased by nine percentage points in mathematics and eight percentage points in reading. Additionally, in the last four years the state has reduced the achievement gap between white students and minority students by about one-third in elementary schools and by more than 10 percent in middle schools. The gap between African-American students and white students has been cut in half since 2002. [More-The Oregonian] (August 23)

Fifth grade students at KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) academies showed "substantially greater" progress on the Stanford Achievement Tests 9 and 10 according to a study by the Educational Policy Institute. Twenty-four KIPP academies participated in the fall of 2003 and again in either the spring or fall of 2004, where 1,800 fifth grade students were tested. The study, Focus on Results: An Academic Impact Analysis of the Knowledge Is Power Program, download files PDF, (230K), is available on the Educational Policy Institute's website. The KIPP approach began in 1994 and is now used across the country in 38 schools, most of which are charter middle schools. [More-Education Week] (August 15) [free registration]

Pennsylvania has a new reason to be proud of one of its school districts. The Philadelphia School District boasted higher test scores in mathematics and reading for the fourth straight year. Although officials are pleased with the results, they know there is still more work to do, since many students still score below the proficiency level. Improvements are marked, however, as 160 schools met standards for Adequate Yearly Progress last year, up from only 58 schools that reached the goal during the previous year. [More-Philadelphia Daily News] (August 23)

School Reform
"New schools! Get your new schools here!" Chicago school officials may be heard using such a chant in the next few weeks when 22 new schools open as part of the city's Renaissance 2010 reform project, which aims to create 100 schools in the next six years. On August 19, officials received a second round of proposals for schools that will be scheduled to open in the fall of 2006. These proposals included pitches for the city's first virtual school, five single-sex schools, and a University of Chicago-managed school. The 57 proposals included ideas for 30 high schools, 11 middle/high schools, and 16 elementary schools run by various organizations such as the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) and Mosaica Education, Inc. [More-The Chicago Tribune] (August 23)


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Last Modified: 08/13/2009