The Education Innovator #1
Volume III
Archived Information

The Education Innovator
January 11, 2005 • Number 1
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 Past issues
What's inside...
K-Nection Distance Learning Program
What's New
Education Secretary Designate Margaret Spellings attends confirmation hearing; Secretary Paige releases anniversary statement on No Child Left Behind; Secretary Paige unveils educational technology plan; Innovations in Education Exchange will be Jan.28; peer reviewers needed for School Leadership grant competition; Harvest Prep reports students closing the achievement gap; Lexington Institute issues report on Park Place School; Schools First helps educators develop academic achievement and family involvement goals; Vermont Board of Education plans for public school choice; free supplemental educational services toolkit available from AIR; and USAID has list of organizations accepting tsunami relief donations.
Innovations in the News
Parents are circulating petitions to transform two San Diego schools to charters, plus information on charter schools, educational technology; magnet schools; and teacher quality.

K-Nection Steps Beyond Rural Areas to Distant Landscapes
There was a time when "distance learning" just meant getting up early in the morning to ride a bus through the cornfields to the far-off school in town. Today, distance learning brings education to a student's desk at school, to his computer at home, or to his laptop on vacation. It can occur live or can be saved for access at a more convenient time. It is more than just watching TV, because it is interactive; students can ask the teacher questions, and they can communicate with each other via the Internet in threaded discussions.

K-Nection, administered by Educational Service Unit #5 in Beatrice, Nebraska, provides real time, two-way, interactive distance learning opportunities to the Southeast Distance Learning Consortium, the Kansas Distance Learning Consortium, and the Tri-Valley Distance Learning Consortium. All three combine to make up a network with 99 educational entities in Kansas and Nebraska, including 80 school districts. In the school districts, up to 25 percent of the students face the challenges of poverty and a lack of rigorous course content available in larger suburban districts.

K-Nection is one of the nation's largest communication and learning "megapods." The term "megapod" was coined to emphasize the vast number of sites that are included in the consortia served by K-Nection and the extensive area it covers. The megapod blankets Omaha south to the Arkansas and Oklahoma borders, and it stretches westward for about 100 miles from the Iowa and Missouri state lines, ranging across 38,000 square miles of rural territory.

The network is capable of carrying an unlimited number of concurrent programs. The elementary and secondary schools in the K-Nection network can select from an array of content areas to meet students' needs, regardless of how small or isolated individual schools are. For example, at the high school level, students can take physiology, probability and statistics, German, and Spanish. Additionally, at the elementary school level, students can make a two-way, interactive visit to Henry Doorly Zoo. There they can study animals in the Desert Dome or the Gorilla Valley and can learn about adaptation in the desert, what life is like in the rainforest, genetics, or conservation research. To support the class offerings, K-Nection emphasizes teacher professional development in curriculum content related to state performance standards and the development of instructional materials and methodologies for a technology-rich learning environment.

As part of the K-Nection offerings, an expert in a particular content area can speak from one school while being viewed by students in other districts and vice versa. "Interconnect: Spanish," for example, is a foreign language video conferencing project, which combines Spanish lessons facilitated by the classroom teacher along with conversational Spanish sessions with a fluent Spanish speaker. This project involves 59 teachers and 1,065 students in a consortium of seven school districts. The syllabus includes weekly classroom video lessons, language practice and follow-up activities, weekly 20-minute conversations, and ongoing teacher professional development.

K-Nection programs are also beamed from locations off school grounds. One such program is conducted by a partnership with the Homestead National Monument of America, the restored prairie that memorializes the Homestead Act of 1862. The K-Nection technology provides educational activities for students beyond commuting distance of this national park. The interactive program with park rangers includes two-way communication between students and instructors and is based on an open-ended question/answer format to foster analytical thinking while taking advantage of spontaneous occurrences at the park.

The latest technology innovation is the program's first-time use of a wireless system-Motorola Canopy-conveyed through a laptop computer. Before, the broadcasts had to be delivered through a bulky "distance learning cart" with pneumatic wheels. Ethernet cables were hidden in fake rocks. Not only did this disturb the authentic experience of being in an outdoor park, it limited the virtual closeness of students to the site. Now students can get a closer look at locations formerly out of reach.

For instance, students can follow a ranger to different parts of the prairie as she explains seasonal changes that occur with plants and animals native to the park. Students can cross a suspension bridge above the treetops. Or, they can step up to the fire line during the annual prairie burn. Students can see first-hand what the prairie burn looks like and can witness the planning and skills necessary for the event. Finally, they can enter the Freeman School to learn the history of one of the oldest and most frequently used one-room schoolhouses in Nebraska.

The Homestead Project is a test site for future applications of the wireless networking. The long-term goal is for K-Nection to bring this technology to more National Park Service sites. The project has been built using an OII Star Schools grant to K-Nection for connectivity and distance learning hardware and a Parks as Classroom grant from the National Park Service to create standards-based curriculum.

To ensure the educational and content quality of its programs and to maintain links to community resources and needs, K-Nection partners with seven colleges and universities, five intermediate school service agencies, fifteen cultural organizations, a special education cooperative, and a school-to-work consortium. Some collaborations include those with the University of Nebraska-Omaha, the University of Kansas, and the Joslyn Art Museum.

In 2000, K-Nection received a $9.2 million Star Schools grant, which is administered by OII.

Resources: Note: The featured program is an example of one distance learning program. The program is innovative, but does not necessarily have evidence of general impact on student achievement from a rigorous evaluation. The success of the program may not be replicable, depending on unique conditions in differing locations.


What's New
January is National High-Tech Month.

January 8th was the anniversary of No Child Left Behind.

From the U.S. Department of Education

The confirmation hearing for Education Secretary Designate Margaret Spellings occurred on January 6. Video and audio excerpts of the hearing are available. (Jan. 6)

U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige released a statement about the third anniversary of the signing of the No Child Left Behind Act that, in the words of Education Week is "taking root" across America. (Jan. 8)

Secretary Paige has unveiled the nation's third national educational technology plan that outlines how effective use of technology can improve student achievement. (Jan. 7)

From OII

Innovations in Education Exchange: The next Innovations in Education Exchange will be on "Lessons Learned from Education Service Providers," Friday, January 28 at the U.S. Department of Education headquarters auditorium. To RSVP, please email by January 20. Please note that there will be a live webcast of the session offered at Kidzonline. (Jan. 6)

One of the speakers at the Exchange will be Bryan Hassel, president of Public Impact. He will speak on issues addressed in his paper, "Starting Fresh: A New Strategy for Responding to Chronically Low Performing Schools" (Dec. 2003)

Those interested in the Exchange topic may want to read a new Education Commission of the States report, download files MSWord (221KB) "State Policies for School Restructuring." The report looks at the option of closing low-performing schools and reopening them as charter schools. (Dec. 2004)

Call for Reviewers: Peer reviewers are needed for the School Leadership Program grant competition. Reviewers will independently read, score, and provide written comments for grant proposals submitted to the U. S. Department of Education from applicants seeking federal funding under the School Leadership Program during the second two weeks in March. (Jan 4)

Charter Schools

The New Haven Register selected the Amistad Academy charter school's director and staff as the "Person of the Year 2004," for the "little miracles" that occur there every day as a result of hard work, vision, and dedication. (Dec. 26)

Harvest Preparatory School in North Minneapolis reports that its students' test scores show that the achievement gap can be closed. The students, who are all African American, outscored the Minneapolis School District on the Northwest Achievement Level Test in reading and math. (Dec. 22)

The Lexington Institute has issued a new report on Park Place School in Norfolk, VA, which operates in partnership with the National Institute for Learning Disabilities. The school is based on the principle that learning disabilities can be mitigated by techniques designed to stimulate cognitive and perceptual functioning. The report recommends that Park Place could be a model for public-private cooperation. (Dec. 2004)

The Schools First program, funded by the Cargill Corporation and carried out by the Center for School Change at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute, was one of the first in the nation to bring together traditional school district and charter school educators serving high percentages of low income and minority students to learn from each other over a 4-year period. Participants developed goals in academic achievement and family involvement to work on at their schools. (Dec.16)


The Vermont Board of Education has worked out the details for its statewide public school choice proposal. If the draft is accepted, it will be passed on to the State Legislature. (Jan. 1)

Supplemental Educational Services

American Institutes for Research's OII-supported Supplemental Educational Services Quality Center has developed The Providers' Toolkit for Supplemental Educational Services, PDF (4.7MB) which contains step-by-step tips, tools, and resources on designing, delivering, marketing, managing, and evaluating a supplemental services program. To order a free copy, call 1-866-544-8686 or email (Jan. 4)

Tsunami Relief

As a Nation, we are troubled by the recent earthquake and resulting tsunami in South Asia. The natural reaction is to ask, "What can we do to help?" On its website, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has a list of relief organizations that are accepting cash donations and are helping in the most efficient way. (Jan. 3)


Innovations in the News

Charter Schools
Parents and teachers are walking door-to-door circulating petitions in hopes of transforming two failing San Diego neighborhood schools into high achieving charter schools. Gompers and Keiller schools are in the early stages of forming partnerships with the University of California San Diego and the University of San Diego, respectively, to create "university assisted" charter schools. [More-Union-Tribune] (Jan. 1)

Forty-six percent of Colorado's charter school programs were rated "excellent" or "high" on the state's School Accountability Reports this year, compared with 39.6 percent of traditional public schools. [More-Denver Post] (Dec. 22)

Educational Technology
This year, Colorado projects spending $23.9 million to educate 4,237 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. These cyber students complete assignments and tests online and communicate with a teacher via computer. The online trend is growing so fast that even school districts are getting in on the action, setting up virtual high schools and online classes to keep students from going elsewhere. [More-Coloradoan (Dec. 27)

In March, an entire grade of students in Pittsgrove Township (NJ) will have laptop computers at their desks as part of their instruction. The superintendent says research shows that providing pupils in lower grades with laptops makes sense because all students have the same teacher, learn the same curriculum, and can develop the same computer skills. [] [free registration] (Jan. 3)

At Oak Hill School in Franklin (MA) students are comfortable using a computer keyboard and teachers turn to computers to complement what they teach. Computers are tools to help get the schoolwork done. The school has benchmarks for what computer skills students should master by seventh grade. [More-Milford Daily News] (Dec. 23)

LeapFrog Enterprises, Inc. and Educate, Inc. (parent of Sylvan Learning Center and Catapult Learning) have teamed up on a pilot program to create a network of up to 20 learning centers for pre-K to grade 12 students. The partnership will leverage Educate's tutoring experience and LeapFrog's educational technology products. [More-PR Newswire] (Dec. 21)

Magnet Schools
This year, six schools in the Desert Sands Unified School District (CA) started offering programs emphasizing pre-medicine, pre-law, communication arts, or international studies. The programs are funded with an $8.6 million OII Magnet Schools Assistance Program grant. The school district was profiled in OII's book, Creating Strong District School Choice Programs. [More-Desert Sun] (Dec. 21)

Teacher Quality
The Maryland State Department of Education will review certification requirements in other states and develop a model for Troops to Teachers programs across the country to follow when it implements a new $2 million OII Troops to Teachers grant to help military veterans become teachers. [More-Gazette] (Dec. 29)


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Last Modified: 08/20/2008