The Education Innovator
Volume IX, No.1
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The Education Innovator
 February 23, 2010 • Number 1
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Editor's Note: The first edition of The Education Innovator for 2010 is arriving slightly later than its usual release at the end of the month in order to share very exciting news about the Open Innovation Portal, a new venture of the Office of Innovation and Improvement and the Department of Education. As you will learn in the feature, the Portal has the potential to dramatically enhance the means by which education stakeholders communicate promising and proven strategies for improving pre-K-12 education and collaborate to develop, fund, and implement them in America’s schools.

We will return to our normal timing of publishing the newsletter at the end of the month with the March edition of the newsletter. Before then, we expect the priorities and application guidelines for the i3 Fund to be released. Watch for a special announcement for Innovator subscribers about this important development.

What's inside...
Open Innovation Portal: Promoting Collaboration in the Education Community
What's New
Innovations in the News

Open Innovation Portal: Promoting Collaboration in the Education Community

In a word, America's schools need innovation.  Educational innovation should not be confused with just generating more great ideas or unique inventions.  Instead we need new solutions that improve outcomes – and that can, and will, be used to serve hundreds of thousands of teachers and millions of students.
--Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

The American education system is not what it could be. For far too many students across the country, it is not even what it needs to be. In cities and towns around the country, there are schools where students are as likely to leave high school with no credential as they are to leave with a diploma, to say nothing of the postsecondary education they increasingly will need to secure meaningful and lasting employment. Recognizing this, and tired of tolerating mediocre schools for thousands of the neediest and most at-risk students, President Obama and Secretary Duncan have made education a centerpiece of the Obama Administration’s domestic policy agenda.

Such fundamental change in American education, from a global laggard to a global leader, will require acknowledgement of problems for which there are existing solutions and those that have remained stubbornly intractable. For the latter type of challenge, an education sector that embraces and supports educational innovation is essential. To meet the challenge, there needs to be commitment, vision, and creativity from stakeholders across the education sector – from experienced educators who work with students every day, from entrepreneurs who may have never worked in a classroom but may have the next great idea for education, and from education funders that have both contributed some of the most important reforms in education and undermined the scaling of effective innovations. Moreover, all of these stakeholders must be communicating and collaborating with each other.

The Department of Education is taking the lead in supporting such a collaborative environment by launching an online community, the Open Innovation Portal, where education stakeholders of all types can spotlight areas of need, propose and suggest improvements to solutions, and fund, implement, and improve these solutions in and outside of the classroom. Through this effort, the Department seeks to create an infrastructure that will support widespread, transformative innovations and focused, incremental improvements that will be required to ensure that every American child has the opportunities that a world-leading education system should provide.

In October 2009, Secretary Duncan announced the proposed priorities for the Investing in Innovation (i3) Fund, a $650 million grant program that will provide seed funding for promising new ideas, support the development of robust evidence for solutions that have shown significant early accomplishments, and scale-up proven solutions so that many more students across the country can benefit. Secretary Duncan called i3 “an unprecedented investment in cutting-edge ideas that will produce the next generation of school reforms,” yet it is only the beginning of the Department of Education’s efforts to create an innovation pipeline for education.

A New Approach to Innovation

The idea of opening the innovation process to a much wider group of contributors did not originate with the i3 program. A March 2006 Harvard Business Review (HBR) article by Larry Huston and Nabil Sakkab, “Connect and Develop: Inside Procter & Gamble’s New Model for Innovation,” describes Procter & Gamble’s (P&G) movement beginning in 2000 to an open innovation model. P&G’s then-CEO, A.G. Lafley, recognized that no matter how much P&G spent on internal research and development, the ideas of the several thousand P&G scientists would still only represent a sliver of the potential range of ideas. So Lafley set a bold goal: that while half of P&G’s new products would come from within the company’s labs in the traditional manner, fully half of the new products, in part or whole, would come from outside the company.

P&G faced a significant challenge to external innovation, and one that may be all too familiar to individuals involved in education R&D: resistance to innovations “not invented here.” Scientists and researchers involved in P&G’s innovation process may have been understandably skeptical and concerned for their place in the organization, but Lafley’s objective was not to replace these employees. Rather, it was to better leverage their efforts by allowing inclusion of an innovation developed elsewhere in the development of a P&G product, valuing it as much as innovation developed wholly in-house.

For P&G, the validation of the new approach came in the form of results. In 2006, according to the HBR article, “more than 35% of [P&G’s] new products in market have elements that originated from outside P&G, up from about 15% in 2000… [and P&G’s] R&D productivity has increased by nearly 60%.” By enlisting (potentially) the entire world to augment its scientists’ efforts and knowledge, P&G has been able to dramatically improve its innovation process. In essence, P&G became more innovative by using an innovative new process, which aligns with the observations of numerous innovation experts that while product innovation receives most of the attention, process innovation can produce a much larger impact.

Open Innovation in Education

The i3 Fund represents the Department of Education’s most substantial direct investment in innovation to date, yet the Department recognizes that creating and sustaining innovation in the field will require not only successful grant competitions, but also the reshaping and retooling of how innovation happens in the sector. The education sector is undoubtedly pre-open innovation Procter & Gamble. As Assistant Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton put it, “successful ideas fail to scale, and the education sector lacks effective venues where good ideas can be identified, refined, and scaled as part of an ongoing innovation cycle that both introduces new ideas and improves on the ones that already exist.”

As a result, key innovation stakeholders – foundations, innovators, and practitioners (e.g., teachers, school administrators, and parents) – share these similar challenges in collaboration and communication: Foundations need a system for identifying new, grassroots ideas and sharing new knowledge; innovators need a process for identifying practitioner needs and for gaining greater access to investors; and practitioners require a venue to express their needs or access proven innovative ideas to strengthen education. All these stakeholders need mechanisms for quickly identifying practices and programs that are working and scaling them up to reach more students. There is also another, underutilized stakeholder in the education sector – the public, which is not traditionally viewed as a meaningful participant in the development of innovation, is often left out of conversations about needs and solutions.

With its role as both a convener and facilitator, the Department of Education can play a unique part in helping stakeholders to overcome these practical challenges. The Department intends to facilitate innovation by structuring a public “exchange,” one in which practitioners define challenges in the field, innovators introduce and refine solutions, and funders support ideas from all parts of the education community.

The Open Innovation Portal, an online platform, will facilitate educational innovation by bridging the communication and coordination challenges in the education community.  This is the first national forum within which entrepreneurs, education stakeholders of all types, and funders can partner to develop and fund innovative ideas in the education sector. Through this portal, the Department will serve as a facilitator of partnerships and a convener of like-minded individuals to accelerate the development, identification, and broad use of innovative products, practices, and processes to improve education in schools.

How the Open Innovation Community Works

The Open Innovation Web Portal is a Web 2.0 innovation ecosystem that combines features of both a community and a marketplace. As a community, the portal creates a social network that strengthens relationships, facilitates connections, and promotes collaboration. As a marketplace, the Portal creates an innovation process that taps the “wisdom of the community” to identify and resource the most promising ideas in education.

Portal users will register for the site and create online profiles with their background and basic contact information. All registered users, whether teachers, administrators, or members of the general public, are invited to be “innovators” and post their “solutions” on the Portal. Solutions are posted to categories of educational “challenges” of interest to the community, the Department, and potential funders. Initial challenges will be aligned with i3 priorities such as supporting effective teachers and school leaders, or serving schools in rural LEAs.

An online form captures detailed information about the “solution,” including the nature of the problem, the merits of the approach, the scalability of the idea, and the resources required to succeed. Users can upload supporting materials including videos and web links. Once posted, members of the community collaborate and rate, rank, comment, ask questions, and offer resources to the proposed “Solutions.” Through this collaborative process, the best ideas rise to the top and weaker ideas either improve or are filtered out.

Looking to the Future

There is immediacy around the development of this online community. The Department of Education wants it to be an asset for prospective applicants to i3, but the functionality of the community will improve over time in a process mirroring that of the ideas on the Web site. New features will be added in response to emerging needs of the community and improvements in technological capacity.  More importantly, the power of an online community – particularly one driven by the collective creativity, knowledge, and experience of its users – increases as the number of users grows.

Moreover, the need for an online community of this type, and its relevance to education innovation, will continue beyond the first round of i3. In the proposed fiscal year 2011 budget for the Department of Education, President Obama and Secretary Duncan are requesting $500 million for a second innovation-focused competitive grant competition. Solutions that did not receive funding in the first i3 competition will have time to use the resources of the online community to improve, and new ideas will emerge in the interim (along with new needs).

This moment represents a unique opportunity to make radical and lasting change in American education. The Department of Education sees the need to bring together some of the nation’s most successful and innovative leaders in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to capitalize on this moment, while adding new voices from previously unrepresented stakeholders.

The development and management of the portal is itself a manifestation of the collaboration needed to move education innovation to a new level. The Office of Innovation and Improvement is partnering with Spencer Trask Collaborative Innovations (STCI), which is known for building innovation ecosystems for organizations. “The Department of Education understands the need to bring together some of the nation’s most successful and innovative leaders in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to capitalize on this moment,” according to Michael J. Turillo, Vice-Chairman of STCI.

The Open Innovation Portal will be a significant step forward in the Department’s commitment to become an engine of innovation for American education.


What's New
From the U.S. Department of Education

President Barack Obama, in his proposed Fiscal Year 2011 Budget, will make critical investments in education and is increasing funding for the Department of Education by $2.9 billion or 6.2 percent, the largest ever proposed request for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act programs, while reforming the Department to be more effective. In addition to a $1.35 billion request to make Race to the Top a permanent program, the proposed budget calls for $500 million to expand the Investing in Innovation Fund and $300 million in new grants to states to develop and implement curricula and improve teaching and learning in science and math. (January 2010)

President Obama, as part of his Educate to Innovate campaign, announced a number of new and innovative partnerships involving companies, universities, foundations, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies designed to improve the participation and performance of America’s students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). These public-private partnerships represent a combined $250 million in financial and in-kind support, adding to the $260 million in support announced in November 2009 at the launch of the campaign. At the same event, the President also honored more than 100 outstanding math and science teachers, winners of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching or the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring. (January 2010)

The Department of Education has begun a new, expanded effort to produce video for television and the Web and, as a consequence, is discontinuing production of “Education News Parents Can Use.” The December 2009 program, “Student Voices on Education: A National Town Hall Meeting with Arne Duncan,” was the last in the series. Stay tuned throughout 2010 for announcements about new live events, quality videos about education in America, and new media products from the Department of Education. (January 2009)

Secretary Duncan, via a video conference, congratulated the three winners of the “I Am What I Learn Video Contest.”  More than 600 students submitted entries to the contest, hosted by the U.S. Department of Education and YouTube, between Sept. 21 and Nov. 9. The Department's Office of Communications and Outreach carefully reviewed each of the videos and narrowed the group down to 10 finalists, whose videos were posted on YouTube. The public voted on their favorites, casting a total of more than 28,000 votes. (December 2009)

From the Office of Innovation and Improvement

The Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII) is seeking peer reviewers for the Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) grant competition. The Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) is a competitive grant program designed to encourage and reward local school districts, nonprofits, and consortia of schools that are developing fresh ideas, growing promising programs, and scaling what works in an effort to dramatically improve our nation’s schools. Interested peer reviewers can obtain more information regarding this opportunity at (February 2010)

From the Institute of Education Sciences

The Institute of Education Sciences January issue of “Education Research News” features an overview of IES American Recovery & Reinvestment Act evaluation activities, research highlights, an update on outreach to Regional Educational Laboratory customers, new teacher and early childhood surveys, and a link to the WWC Randomized Controlled Trials Registry. Other items include Director John Easton's goals for IES and an interview with the Director or the Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems Initiative.  (Jan. 2010)

Educational Technology in Public School Districts: Fall 2008,” a report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), within the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), includes information on Internet capacity and networks, technology policies, district resources, teacher professional development, and district-level leadership. (Jan. 2010)

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

The Department of Education announced that 40 states and the District of Columbia submitted applications to be considered for Phase I of the Race to the Top competition. Race to the Top is the agency’s $4.35 billion fund to dramatically reshape America’s educational system to better engage and prepare students for success in the 21st century global economy and workplace. Winners of the first Race to the Top awards will be announced in April. A second round of applications from states will be due in June, with winners announced this September. States that apply, but do not win in Phase I, may reapply for Phase II. (January 2010)

President Obama announced his intention to propose in his Fiscal Year 2011 budget $1.35 billion to continue Race to the Top. He also announced his intention to expand the competition to include local school districts that are committed to reform. The announcement came during a visit with Secretary Duncan at Graham Road Elementary School in Falls Church, Va., one of the lowest-income yet highest-achieving schools in Fairfax County. (January 2010)

American History

The Preserve America History Teacher of the Year Award presents $10,000 to the best history teacher in America. The national winner is chosen from outstanding history teachers in each state, district, and U.S. territory. State winners receive $1,000 and an archive of books and other resources for their school. The award is co-sponsored by the Gilder Lehrman Institute, Preserve America, and HISTORY™ (the History Channel). Nominations for the 2010 awards are due by March 15. (January 2010)

K-12 history, social studies, and English teachers are invited to apply to the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History 2010 Summer Seminars. Taught by renowned historians on college campuses in the US and the UK, these one-week seminars give educators the opportunity to deepen their knowledge of topics in American history, while gaining practical resources and strategies to take back to the their classrooms. (January 2010)

Charter Schools

A new report download files PDF-[205KB] from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, “How State Charter Laws Rank Against The New Model Public Charter School Law,” assesses the strengths of each state’s charter school law against the 20 essential components of a strong law contained in the new model public charter school law released by the Alliance in June 2009. Evaluating each state law against each component, the Alliance ranks each law from strongest to weakest. “These new rankings not only show which state laws are making the grade,” according to National Alliance President and CEO Nelson Smith, “but also show how they do it: by paying attention to specific issues that are crucial to school and student success.” (January 2010)

Closing the Achievement Gap

Despite recent high school reform efforts, the dropout problem in the United States remains daunting. To address this troubling issue that affects all states, the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) announced it has selected six states to develop comprehensive state dropout prevention and recovery policies through the State Strategies to Achieve Graduation for All initiative. The initiative will help states clearly identify their dropout problem, assess the gaps in student supports for preventing students from dropping out of school and recovering the students that drop out, and create a dropout prevention and recovery action plan for implementation. (January 2010)

A new study from researchers at Villanova University finds that girls are just as capable of learning and achieving in mathematics as boys when given opportunity, encouragement, and women role models to emulate. The researchers used international data sets, including the 2003 “Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study,” and the Programme for International Student Assessment,” which estimated the magnitude of differences in mathematics achievement, attitudes, and affect across 69 nations. The closing of the stereotypical gender gap in math varies across nations, the study concludes, depending on a culture’s level of human development and progress elevating the status and welfare of women. (January 2010)

Early Childhood Education

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced plans to strengthen the Head Start and Early Head Start programs as part of an Administration-wide effort to close achievement gaps and promote early learning through the first eight years of life for the nation’s most vulnerable children. These quality improvements respond to growing evidence on what works in early learning policy and practice, and incorporates Congressional mandates from the 2007 reauthorization of the Head Start Act.  A Congressionally-mandated study on the impact of the 2002-2003 Head Start program was submitted to Congress on January 13th. The study measured the cognitive and social/emotional development, health status, and behavior of approximately five thousand three- and four-year-olds who were randomly assigned to either a control group or a group that had access to a Head Start program. (January 2010)

A new report from the New America Foundation finds that New Jersey has made tremendous strides in improving children's access to quality early learning experiences, enabling some districts to nearly erase the achievement gap. But the report also exposes the fragility of these gains and urges state leaders to act now to sustain and build on early learning reforms to date-or risk undoing New Jersey's progress so far. According to the report, New Jersey has taken steps to link pre-K programs to the early elementary grades, enabling children to acquire a solid foundation of reading, math, and social skills by the end of third grade. The report is a project of New America's Early Education Initiative. (December 2009)

School Improvement

The nation received a C in the latest “ Quality Counts” report download files PDF-[1.18MB] from “Education Week.” The annual score card delivers grades by state and for the nation overall in six areas of policy and performance. In overall scores, Maryland topped the states with a B-plus; Massachusetts and New York each earned a B. The highest scores, both for the nation overall and for many states, were in policies related to standards, assessments, and accountability. (January 2010)

The After-School Corporation (TASC), in its latest report, “Room to Grow: Tapping the After-School Workforce Potential,” calls for a professional development system and other improvements in the preparation and continuing education of the more than one million after-school workers in the U.S. TASC argues that even though workers in after-school programs are required to undergo informal, on-the-job training, their preparation does not include portable certification and is rarely linked to university-based degrees or certificates. (January 2010)

A new report by the National Center on Time and Learning finds that a growing number of U.S. schools (655 schools in 36 states serving over 300,000 students) have broken from the traditional school calendar and expanded learning time to improve educational outcomes. The report is based on a database developed by the organization—the first effort to catalogue schools operating substantially longer than the standard six-hour school day and, in many cases, the standard 180-day school year.  On average, the schools offer 25% more time than the national norm, which translates, over the course of a school career, to three additional years in school for all participating students. (December 2009)

The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based non-profit supporting education innovation and entrepreneurship, announced download files PDF-[27KB] the selection of two new Education Entrepreneur Fellows today. The Fellowship acts as a national incubator for transformative education ventures. Two talented entrepreneurs were recently selected from an applicant pool of 405 people from 44 states and 20 countries. As Fellows, the entrepreneurs receive two years of salary ($90,000/year) with full benefits, a start-up stipend, and ongoing support from The Mind Trust Board and staff, enabling them to develop, build, and launch their initiatives in Indianapolis and nationwide. (December 2009)

Teacher Quality and Development

Teachers fare as well as or better than business owners in their sense of well-being, according to recent research by the Gallup Organization. Teachers who responded to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index between July 2008 and June 2009 score the highest or tied for highest among 12 professions on how they evaluate their lives, access to resources needed to lead a healthy life, emotional health, and their likelihood of engaging in healthy behaviors. One area, however, in which teachers did not fare as well as business owners on the Work Environment Index included such considerations as their treatment by supervisors and the extent to which the work environment is opening and trusting. (December 2009)

American educators are encouraged to apply now for 2010 summer study opportunities in the humanities. Each summer, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) supports national residential seminars, institutes, and workshops located in the U.S. and abroad. Program participants receive stipends to help defray travel and living expenses. The application deadline for 2010 summer programs is March 2, 2010. Educators may apply for up to three projects in any given year but may participate in only one. (December 2009)


Innovations in the News

Competition across district lines to attract students is going strong two decades after Minnesota became the first state to adopt a broad open-enrollment policy. This is particularly true in the greater Twin Cities area, where neighboring districts Eden Prairie and Minnetonka have both offered foreign language immersion programs, among other innovations, to attract students from beyond their own districts. In the Minnetonka schools, more students were leaving the district than coming into it in 2002. A self-assessment led to the district’s Mandarin Chinese immersion program in 2007, and today Minnetonka attracts more students than it loses to other districts by a ratio of almost six to one. [More—Star Tribune (Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn.] (Jan.18)

A new study of New York City charter schools finds that charter elementary and middle schools made greater gains in reading and math than the regular public schools, including better performance by black and Hispanic students in charters. The study, conducted by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), provided similar findings to those by researcher Caroline Hoxby, who studied achievement of students in NYC charter schools versus their counterparts who applied to the schools but were not accepted in their entrance lotteries [see "What’s New" in Dec. 3, 2009 Innovator]. The presence of “…two different studies using two different methods and finding consistent results…(is) pretty strong evidence that something is going on in New York City,” according to Robin Lake, associate director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington. [More—Education Week] (Jan. 6) (premium article access compliments of

In Baltimore, a school choice approach to high schools is in its eighth year, providing middle-school students with choices from among nearly 50 high schools across the city as options to the comprehensive high schools in their neighborhoods. Because of declining enrollments, school leaders were able to quickly create new, smaller-enrollment schools in underused buildings, often with a special emphasis, such as Digital Harbor High, the second-most-popular choice among Baltimore eighth-graders.  While more research is needed to determine the results of the move to high school choice, key indicators such as the city’s graduation and dropout rates are moving in positive directions. [More—The Baltimore Sun] (Jan. 3)

With growing recognition that principals, right behind teachers, significantly affect student learning, researchers with Learning Point Associates reviewed available instruments for principal evaluations and concluded that one stood out above the others. The Vanderbilt Assessment of Leadership in Education, or VAL-ED, created in 2006, “comes closest to measuring the leadership attributes and behaviors that research finds to be associated with how well students perform.” Developers of the VAL-ED were after an instrument that would measure what they considered the most important principal role: instructional leadership.  Most school leaders, according the VAL-ED developers, are being evaluated on managing conflict and running a smooth operation. [More—Education Week] (Dec. 22) (premium article access compliments of

Raising Student Achievement
Focused Instruction Process (FIS), an approach to turning around failing schools being used in Chicago by Strategic Learning Initiatives (SLI), should be considered by other districts, according to a recently released evaluation by the American Institutes for Research. SLI began work in 10 Chicago K-8 schools in 2006, when nine of them were slated for closing or restructuring. By 2007 and 2008, two of the schools led all the K-8 Chicago schools in gains on the state achievement test and test scores in half of the 10 schools were improving at a rate six times faster than before the SLI interventions. FIS has four key components (shared leadership, targeted professional development, continuous improvement, and parent engagement), and uses an eight-step process aimed at ensuring that students master needed skills. [More—Education Week]  (Jan. 6) (premium article compliments of

The recent release of the 2009 Trial Urban District Assessment results in the Detroit Public Schools (DPS) has caused a “call to arms” for reading volunteers, resulting in creation of the DPS Reading Corps, which is at more than 2,000 volunteers. Detroit fourth- and eighth-graders turned in the worst math test scores in the nation on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Recognizing that reading problems contributed to the high failure rates on the math test, DPS officials wanted the public to have a “sense of outrage” as well as urgency over the NAEP results. The scores, according to Robert Bobb, emergency financial manager for DPS, constitute “a reading emergency,” and DPS Reading Corps is responding to the crisis. [More— The Detroit Free Press] (Dec. 31)

School Improvement
Two Georgia districts are experimenting with flexibility from the state under its recent Investing in Educational Excellence, or IE2, law and both like the freedom and results so far. IE2, which allows for flexibility from rules pertaining to such things as class size, teacher certification, teachers’ pay, and graduation requirements, is being piloted in Gwinnett and Forsyth Counties. For the reduction in red tape and increased flexibility, IE2 districts agree to increased accountability for student achievement. In Forsyth County, parent involvement in the school-level decisions to apply for IE2 has been an emphasis and the district expects to save up to $15 million in a five-year period. [More—The Atlanta Journal-Constitution] (free registration) (Jan. 4)

Despite the many challenges and obstacles, the vision of state data systems that track individual student progress from kindergarten through college is moving toward a reality in a number of states, according to a recent survey by the Washington-based Data Quality Campaign. The good news is that 32 states have the ability to track student-level data in the K-12 and higher education arenas; the bad news is that most of them do not have systems in place that allow for communications between the separate databases, according to the survey’s findings. Among the issues to be addressed as states work toward both complete student-level data and the ability to view it across the K-16 spectrum are individual privacy concerns and a general opposition from private colleges to reporting individual course completion and grade data. [More—Education Week and The Chronicle of Higher Education] (Dec. 21 and Jan. 3, respectively) (premium article access compliments of

“Don’t forget to pick up Johnny’s test scores at the mall!” Aurora Public Schools in Colorado has placed two kiosks at the Town Center mall so parents can check on grades, homework assignments, and more. While this information is already available online for Aurora parents, school officials see the free kiosks as “a boon for parents who do not have a computer or Internet access at home.” Parents just need to obtain a password from their child’s school to access the “parental portal,” a secure and confidential Web site. Each kiosk costs about $7,500. [More— The Denver Post] (Dec. 29)

Teacher Quality and Development
Harrison School District 2 in Colorado joined a growing number of districts to adopt a pay-for-performance system that will reward teachers based on student achievement gains, community leadership, continuous learning, contributions to their profession, and mentoring of colleagues. The expected $1 million implementation cost of new salary increases will be met in part through reductions in stipends for department chairpersons and teacher attendance incentives. [More— The Colorado Springs Gazette] (Jan. 11)

A national research project, “Measures of Effective Teaching,” funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is underway in six districts. In Dallas, the focus will be on middle school teachers for the next two years. Video tapes of math, reading, and English language arts teachers will be scored by evaluators for the quality of instruction, and student evaluations will be used to provide feedback to teachers. In Hillsborough County, Fla., local officials are using a major communications effort to rally teacher support for its efforts, which include a corps of 200 peer evaluators and a new evaluation system for teachers and principals that will be the basis for a future performance-pay policy. [More—The Dallas Morning News and The St. Petersburg Times] (January 8 and 9, respectively)

Science teachers in Montgomery County, Md., thanks to support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, now have help “translating advanced research concepts into classroom-friendly lab activities that can be conducted within the confines of a bell schedule.” As an example, science teachers practiced replicating their DNA at the school system’s DNA Resource Center where lab activities they will do in their classrooms are recreated using equipment and kits supplied by the Center. This spring, the DNA Research Center, which has primarily served county high school teachers to date, will expand to middle schools. The Center provides valuable pedagogical and logistical support that is necessary for teacher training to be effective. [More— The Washington Post] (Jan. 6)

The National Council for Accreditation or Teacher Education (NCATE) convened its first Panel on Clinical Preparation, Partnerships, and Improved Student Learning, charging the group with “recommending scalable ways to improve in-the-classroom training and strengthen relationships between school districts and the colleges and universities that prepare their teachers.” The panel, according to NCATE president James Cibulka, will “identify what the best practices are in strong clinical preparation and in preparing teachers to more effectively teacher diverse learners.” A final report from the panel is expected in May. [More—Inside Higher Ed] (Jan. 5)

Technology in Education
Video games will be an increasing part of efforts to prepare eighth-graders in the Austin Independent School District (AISD) for the Texas Assessment on Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) in seven middle schools and 15 charter schools. Last summer, the district piloted a remedial course for eighth-graders who repeatedly failed the TAKS math section.  The students spent 30 minutes of each of the four-hour-long class days playing specially designed video games. The results were amazing, according to Austin officials. “Our students were not only succeeding,” according to AISD mathematics supervisor Norma Jost, “but truly becoming interested in learning mathematics again.” [More—T.H.E. Journal] (Jan. 20)

Fifth-graders and their teachers in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., are piloting the use of hand-held cellular computers, essentially smart phones with Internet access, to “use, find, store, and share information,” in their science, math, English language arts and social studies classes. Following a science lesson on the properties of light, students drew examples of translucent, transparent, and opaque objects on the cellular computers, and then uploaded their work to the teacher’s computer for her review. The year-long experiment has the students keeping journals about their experiences and participating in an end-of-year survey. [More—The Saratogian (Saratoga Springs, N.Y.)] (Jan. 8)

More than three-quarters of K-12 educators use digital media for instruction, and 80 percent of them report being regular or frequent users, according to a new survey by the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). For the first time since 2002, the annual survey included pre-K educators. K-12 teachers are increasingly accessing video online and a majority of both pre-K and K-12 teachers “strongly agreed that TV and video content are more effective when it is integrated with other instructional resources in the classroom.” The survey also found that PBS is the top Web site choice of pre-K teachers. [More—eSchool News] (Jan. 6)



Office of Innovation and Improvement
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