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It's Testing Season

The nation's schools are in the midst of their 2015-16 assessment cycle, which began in March is some states and will extend through early June. On the whole, it seems a lot calmer than last year when a generalized feeling of anxiety about the consequences of the first required administration of Common Core summative assessments (then largely delivered by PARCC and SBAC) reached a fever pitch. That's not to say everyone is happy. Some parents continue to opt their children out of testing and several teachers' groups continue to lobby against "too much testing." Read More »

Horizon Report: 2016 Higher Education Edition

I don't write about higher education very much. It's not an area where I have a lot of experience and as a market, higher ed is very different from K-12. But as I read through the higher ed edition of the New Media Consortium's Horizon Report 2016, I was struck by the number of similarities. NMC identifies six barriers that are impeding technology adoption. As it does in its K-12 edition, NMC categorizes these barriers as solvable, difficult and wicked hard.
One of the solvable barriers is digital literacy. The report indicates that weak digital literacy skills are a problem that reaches well beyond higher ed. It's the familiar problem of students who may have grown up surrounded by technology, but are not necessarily very good at using it effectively. Students may excel when using digital products in familiar and predictable ways, but be unable to apply those skills to unfamiliar tasks or use them to solve more challenging problems than creating a play list or taking a selfie. The report's authors see this barrier as solvable since there are a lot of efforts going on to address the problem, many of which seem promising. Read More »

SEA Capacity, Infrastructure Spending

I've been trying to catch up on the news this past week or so and must admit a lot of stories have me thinking "What did you expect?" Education Week and other outlets have been reporting on State Education Agencies (SEAs). When Congress crafted the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), its intent was to return control over many education policies and decisions to the states and local districts. While the district and individual schools know best what students need, the resources available to meet those needs and the barriers that might exist to more innovative and flexible solutions, local control is not always the most efficient way to get things done. If districts act in isolation, there are a lot of people working to recreate the same wheel. SEAs play an important role in fostering collaboration, coordinating efforts and disseminating promising practices. But most SEAs are stretched just trying to maintain their current level of effort. They have limited capacity to take on new roles and responsibilities. Read More »

Evidence-based Programs in ESSA

Last week I briefly described the transition from current education policy to full implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), especially in Title I. There is another area of ESSA that is of particular interest to instructional materials provider. While the Department of Education has been talking about evidence since the passage of No Child Left Behind, this is the first time that the legislation has incorporated a definition of evidence. NCLB was peppered with references to "scientifically-based research," calling on schools to adopt instructional materials and programs based on rigorous research that proves their effectiveness. NCLB was signed into law early in 2012, the same year that Grover "Russ" Whitehurst was appointed director of the Institute of Education Sciences and that the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) was established. WWC was created to promote informed education decision making by serving as a central and neutral source of scientific evidence about "what works" in education. Read More »

ESSA Transition, Making

The Department of Education has issued an updated FAQ about transitioning to ESSA. For the 2016-17 school year, non-competitive grant programs will be funded and operate under the rules in place before ESSA was adopted. The Department will make FY2016 formula grant awards for the 2016-2017 school year in the same manner and using the same allocation formulas it did with FY 2015 formula grant funds. That means your Title I customers, along with ELL and the smaller formula-based programs should receive the same amount of funding they received in the previous school year (depending on the overall FY 20167 appropriation) and the programs should operate normally. The same is true for special education which operates under its own authorizing legislation, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Read More »


The Department of Education has signed up 14 states and 40 school districts to support and implement elements of its #GoOpen initiative. You may remember that when the initiative was first announced back in October, only 10 districts had signed on to the basic challenge of replacing at least one textbook with openly licensed educational resources within the next year. Six districts already involved in using OER were named Ambassador Districts, committed to helping other school districts move to openly licensed materials. This latest announcements saw three districts added to the list of Ambassador Districts, with 21 new districts signing on to #GoOpen. Essentially districts commit to creating a team to plan implementation strategies, replacing at least one textbook with openly-licensed educational materials in the next year, and documenting and sharing their implementation process. Read More »

Broadening Procurement, ESSA Hearings

There was a really good article in eSchool News last week about the tensions between centralized purchasing versus one that puts power in the hands of principals and teachers. We've all seen the numbers coming out of recent work around procurement and the technology purchasing process. Digital Promise's work on procurement indicates that teachers and principals are only moderately involved. While district officials say they want teacher input for purchasing decisions, just 28% of superintendents agree with giving greater authority to individual schools and educators. Some of this is understandable. Central purchasing helps maintain a limited set of standards that the district must support and for which it should be providing PD. It can save districts money as volume purchasing equates to larger discounts or more "free" support. And it's the central office staff that has to answer to the School Board and to parents when an initiative goes badly off the tracks. Read More »

Digital Learning Day

February 17 saw the fifth annual celebration of Digital Learning Day. Launched by the Alliance for Excellent Education in 2012, Digital learning day was created to celebrate teachers who were tapping the potential of technology to enhance student engagement and learning. Over the years the event has showcased innovative teachers, leaders, and programs that are improving student learning experiences through the effective use of technology. This year the Alliance reports that there were over 2,300 Digital Learning Day events across the country, including celebrations in classrooms, libraries, and afterschool programs. Digital Learning Day was celebrated in all fifty states and in fifteen countries across the world. This year's event focused on digital equity in schools and communities across America. In a series of live streamed conversations, educators, students, and policymakers from small, rural towns to large, urban centers talked about what they are doing to close the digital divide in their communities. There has been a lot of attention lately to the digital equity issue. I'm sure school leaders welcome the increased attention to a problem they have wrestled with for years. While school online access is steadily improving, educators continue to worry about students' ability to access the digital tools they need to complete assignments and expand their learning opportunities. Read More »

FY 2017 Education Budget Request

On Tuesday, President Obama released the FY 2017 budget for the Department of Education. The president's budget provides $69.4 billion in discretionary funding, an increase of $1.3 billion, or 2%, over the 2016 level. In many ways this budget is something of a wish list. Money is tight and the Republicans seem determined to fight most increases, no matter how moderate. The partial lifting of the sequester caps provided under the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 helps, but does not allow for a lot of new programming. The 2015 legislation increased discretionary spending by $80 billion over two years, split evenly between defense and nondefense programs. The FY 2016 budget saw a resulting bump of $50 billion, leaving a $30 billion increase for FY 2017. That's not a lot of money to spread over many departments and programs. The Department of Education budget emphasizes three themes: (1) increasing equity and excellence; (2) providing support for teachers and school leaders; and (3) promoting access, affordability, and completion in higher education. Read More »

Mode Effect on PARCC Tests

Education Week ran a major article this week reporting that students who took the PARCC assessment last school year on the computer tended to score lower than those who took the paper-and- pencil form of the test. While the numbers are not yet available across the states in the consortium, a PARCC spokesperson acknowledged that the pattern exists, on average. The pattern was most pronounced in English/language arts and middle- and upper-grades math. The Smarter Balanced consortium is still investigating if any such problems exist among their test takers.

It seems fairly obvious that lack of familiarity with computers added to the challenges that students faced as they worked their way through the PARCC test. Students who did not know their way around the computer may have found dragging and dropping, highlighting or scrolling back through text to find the required supporting evidence more difficult than test designers anticipated. Navigating the computer may have slowed then down or just frustrated them. Read More »