From the Editor
What a Difference a Bill Makes
Anne Wujcik — Friday, February 27, 2009
Welcome to the post-stimulus world! I heard myself saying the other day, “Well, there’s only $1.2 billion in that program,” a sure sign of how quickly our perspective has changed as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act becomes both clearer and more real. And while we’re all breathing a little easier with the infusion of $70+ billion in new K-12 money, that’s no reason to stop emphasizing the ways that our products and services can save the school money or offer greater efficiencies. For now, at least, the school community is very aware that this is one-time money and are going to be very careful not to get in over their heads on efforts they might not be able to sustain. They will be looking for affordable proven solutions offered by companies that they can trust to be there in both good and bad times.
The Virtual High School Global Consortium is among the vendors making the cost savings argument. It’s positioning its online summer school program as one response to budget cuts that have caused schools to drop their own face-to-face programs. In the VHS model, for every teacher released by a member school to teach a VHS online course, the school is able to register 25 students per semester in VHS's full catalog of online courses. The VHS summer offerings include Algebra I, Chemistry, English 9, English 10, Health, Pre-Algebra and U.S. History. In Massachusetts, where VHS has 155 participating middle and high school members, the organization has been hosting informational meetings with secondary school educators and district Superintendents to discuss how online learning can address resource constraints caused by the state’s budget crisis.
Another approach is to allow extended evaluation periods and support. Acer operates a K-12 Seed Unit Program that offers school customers a through a free, no-obligation 30-day trial. Interested K-12 schools simply sign up to experience the benefits of Acer netbooks or desktops in the classroom.
The School Improvement Network credits its solid growth over the last year to the cost savings it is able to offer its customers. The company’s PD 360 product allows districts to continue to deliver quality professional development with significant cost savings. With nearly 1,000 video segments featuring the top experts and many thousands of real classroom examples, PD 360 has proven to be a very effective tool to help teachers implement research-based best practices in a cost-effective way. PD 360’s on-demand PD model provides just-in-time answers, and differentiated solutions for varying teacher needs, while saving dollars in areas such as travel and substitute teacher costs.
It doesn’t hurt either to be able to point to evidence of effectiveness. Over the last few weeks, numerous companies have released findings that show student academic gains resulting from the use of a specific problem. For example, recent research conducted at Spring Independent School District (ISD) in Houston
concluded that Title I, at-risk, economically disadvantaged and students of all ethnicities who used the AutoSkill’s Academy of READING and Academy of MATH saw significantly higher scores on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS™) and larger gains in their Lexile® reading and Quantile® math scores, compared with students who didn't use the intervention solutions. In Mississippi, students at Picayune Junior High School who used Scientific Learning’s Fast ForWord® software made significant improvements, gaining an average of one year of reading ability after approximately two months of use. And in California, Ballard & Tighe reports that where there are district-wide implementations of Carousel of IDEAS, 96% of the schools have met their Annual Measurable Achievement Objectives as measured and reported for Title III standards for English Language Proficiency.
The headlines each week are full of examples of product effectiveness research and smart marketing approaches. As the stimulus money begins to arrive in local coffers, be prepared to enter a dialog that lets educators know they have found partners who care as much about student and school success as they do about their own businesses and everyone will prosper.