• Testimony Before Joint Committee on the Public Schools Underscores Need for Online and Blended Learning

    Posted by Dr. Rich Bozza at 12/20/2012
     

    Students at Computer Recently, I testified on behalf of NJASA before the Joint Committee on the Public Schools on online and blended learning. It’s a new paradigm for instruction that’s in line with the 21st century digital age. Instead of ‘chalk and talk’ lessons, students learn online or with a combined traditional and online experience called blended learning. Both opportunities have proven to be beneficial to students when teachers are trained properly in this new way of instruction and have the resources to provide the fullest learning environment. NJASA is leading the development of policies, practices, assessment and training with New Jersey school administrators and educators.

     

    Online learning, or e-learning, has grown by 30 percent annually in the U.S. with 50,000 enrollments in the year 2000, and over 2 million enrollments in 2010, according to the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL).2 Three in four teachers who combined online learning with face-to-face teaching reported a positive impact on their face-to-face teaching,” according to iNACOL.3

     

    In my testimony, I outlined plans to implement online and blended learning more broadly in our schools. This new digital learning needs to have an infrastructure if it is going to be successful. That includes providing access to resources and services, courses and instruction. We need to train educators in the use of online tools, and develop appropriate assessments for students. NJASA is working with K12, Inc., Intel, and Microsoft in these areas. Providing the right framework for students will enable them to maximize their potential as digital learners.

     

    Why Digital Learners Need Online and Blended Learning

     

    At last year’s TECHSPO, I was engaged in a fascinating conversation with our keynote speaker Ian Jukes, a technology futurist and founder of the 21st Century Fluency Project.  His comments underscored why our schools need to accelerate the use of technology and online resources to keep up with the digital learners who process information differently from those of my generation.

     

    We spoke about the power of gaming in learning. He told me that online gaming participants are asked to make decisions every 1½ to 2 seconds and receive a consequence every 7 seconds. 

     

    He said that digital learners prefer processing pictures, color sound and video before text.  This is opposite of traditional educators who prefer to present text first. Traditionally, primary information was always provided by text.

     

    Tests have shown that people can remember the content of over 2,500 pictures with 90 percent accuracy several days after exposure, even though they see each picture for only 10 seconds.  Recall rates after one year remain at about 63 percent. The same research, however, shows that when information is presented orally, after 72 hours people only remember about 10 percent.  Add picture content to the material, however, and the retention skyrockets up to 65 percent.  This is because the brain processes images 60,000 times faster than it does text.

     

    Schools have traditionally been a place where we would teach students information “just in case” you need it.  As Jukes notes: “Educators are saying you have to learn this “just in case” it happens to be on an exam, “just in case” you might need it to pass the course, “just in case” you may want to become an engineer, or a historian, or a writer.

     

    Digital learners, however, want to gain an understanding of what they need to know, but they want to acquire these skills “just in time” to play a new game, play the piano, "fix a bike, or something else they don’t know how to do.

     

    “Just-in-time” learning is about learners having the skills and habits of mind that allow them to learn and adapt “just in time” for that next window of opportunity that opens up to them.  Digital learners today want information “just in time” for their use.” In order to provide students with an education for their future, and not our past, we need to change how we teach from “just in case” to “just in time” via online and blended learning.

     

    The Digital Transformation in New Jersey Schools

     

    Lacey Township High School (LTHS), in Lacey Township, N.J., is currently offering courses online that are not currently available in the district. Designated staff closely monitors student participation and success online. The district’s goal is to build capacity to engage every student in at least one online course prior to graduation.

     

    In the Quakertown Community School District (QCSD) in Pennsylvania, administrators and educators support the vision of “anytime, anywhere learning” and flexible, customized learning paths for students. Online learning is available to all students in grades K-12. The program accommodates fully online students and hybrid students, and enrolled 90 in 2009-10, 140 in 2010-11, and 340 in 2011-12. Courses are taught by QCSD teachers, and have saved the district more than $250,000 per year.

     

    These examples are just highlights of what is happening in our nation’s schools. We must overcome the hurdle of traditional institutional thinking of the past and embrace online and blended learning for our future.

     

    For more information on NJASA’s testimony and what schools are doing in this arena already read our press release or visit us at www.njasa.net.


    2 ibid

    3 ibid


     

     

     
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  • Tips for Engaging Students in Learning from Discovery Channel’s Danny Forster

    Posted by Dr. Rich Bozza at 11/20/2012

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    Photo Credit: Danny Forster, host of Discovery Channel’s Build It Bigger, is pictured with

    Dr. Richard Bozza, executive director, NJASA (left) and Donna Van Horn, president, NJASA.

     

    It’s not every day that you get educational advice from a TV star. New Jersey’s chief education officers had the opportunity to hear from Danny Forster, host of Discovery Channel’s Build It Bigger, a college professor and a working architect who was chosen to design the 40-story hotel near the Ground Zero memorial in New York City.

     

    Forster spoke at a special session sponsored by NJASA at the New Jersey School Boards Association meeting in Atlantic City, N.J. on October 24, 2012.  His remarks inspired chief education officers to find opportunities to bring the real world into the classroom via technology.

     

    NJASA brought Forster in to talk about how Discovery Education, the television network’s educational arm, can work with schools to support common core curriculum standards. The network can stream engaging, rich media. It can offer virtual labs and simulations. It also can customize a digital science textbook. In addition, Discovery Education offers customized professional development experiences for educators. The company maintains a global learning community where educational professionals can communicate through blogs, virtual conferences and in-person events, such as the one Danny Forster keynoted.

     

    He was well received by the audience, whom he held mesmerized in the room for more than two hours. Danny’s presentation was not only interesting; it was useful as a model for making educational content more compelling. Architectural design, said Danny, can be exciting if presented in the right way.  It also ties nicely into math, science, the environment, and the local culture. Educators can use a multi-disciplinary approach that has a real world application.

     “We take the TV shows and give them a second life by bringing them into the classroom to enhance the curriculum,” Danny explained. “These types of real world applications, where students can become part of the process ‘virtually,’ are very compelling.”

     

    He offered the following tips to engage students in learning:

     

    Tip #1: Engage a student’s power of observation. Show them a photo and ask about it. Why is this skyscraper stacked unevenly? Or why does that building have curves instead of corners? Chances are, there is a mathematical, scientific or environmental reason, such as when Chicago’s highest buildings are constructed to resist wind patterns.

     

    Tip #2: Tell the story. Every place has a story. Take the Mumbai Airport in India, for example. Here, an average of 40 family members and friends will see one person off to their flight. This required a larger-than-usual waiting area. Telling the story helps the listener to understand the decisions made.

     

    Tip #3: Incorporate cultural elements. Consider the Viceroy Hotel in Abu Dhabi. The architects chose to wrap the hotel in the same way the local residents wore their white kanduras. Not only did the wrap keep the hotel cool, it echoed the look of the local culture. Incorporating cultural elements in your lessons, whether on architecture or other topics, will help students from those cultures to connect to the topic.

     

    Tip #4: Incorporate the environment. There’s a renaissance in today’s architecture, to be mindful of our resources. That includes becoming aware of our surroundings. Encourage students to apply their studies on math, science, language arts, etc. to benefit the environment. That will automatically ensure a meaningful real world application.

     

    Tip #5: Inspire students to career choices. Ask students what they would like to be when they grow up. Then, ask them what they like most about that career. The answer may open up new career ideas in related or unrelated fields.

     

    Danny admitted choosing architecture as his field of study because of one inspiring teacher. She told him the story behind the buildings, and he was hooked. You can engage your students in the same way, and inspire a whole new generation of leaders.

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  • Five Tips to Create a Strategic Plan for Your School District

    Posted by Anne Gallagher at 11/2/2012
     
     
     
    Five Tips to Create a Strategic Plan
     
    At a time when school administrators are being asked to take on more and more work due to budget cuts, it can be overwhelming to think about creating a Strategic Plan. However, such a plan is critical. It serves as a road map, guiding the organization toward meeting goals that will grow and enrich the entire school district.

     

    A strategic plan is worth the time and energy.

    • It allows you to build a vision where you want to go and collect critical data about the organization to make intelligent decisions.
    • It helps you to prioritize goals and objectives when you have limited resources.
    • It’s a reminder of district goals, as school board members’ terms come to an end.
    • And it can help engage the community and build support for future funding.

     

    But how do you go about creating a strategic plan? Here are the steps, recently taken by Readington Township School District. The district worked with PLC Associates, an NJASA affiliate partner who handled the extensive research portion of the plan. NJASA and PLC Associates are offering a 25 percent discount for those who sign up by December.

     

    1. Look at the current organization and what you would like to see in the future. If you could step into a time machine, and come out in 5 to 10 years, what would the district look like? Include specifics on technology, facilities, staff, curriculum, sports and recreation, environmental impact, school garden, community liaisons, etc. Invite input from stakeholders who are “invested” in your district: parents, students, teachers and other staff, and so on. To get this input, Readington held an intake session. The district invited board members, parents and the community to talk about issues critical to the school and where they wanted to be.

     

    2. Identify priorities. Once you have an idea of where you want to go, think about what it will take to get there. Consider assigning each goal to a board or staff member to research and determine the steps needed. The information on the expense and time required to meet this goal will help to determine whether this is a goal your district will pursue. The Readington school district’s intake session revealed several key issues for consideration. There was a desire for a full-day kindergarten. There was an interest in consistent communication with families. There was a commitment to technology as a resource to promote critical thinking, creativity and communications skills. There also was a need to prepare students from transitions from grade to grade. These were some of the priorities identified.

     

    3. Research and data collection. In order to make decisions about changes to your district, you will need to do some research. If you assigned goals to your board or staff members (in #2), you already will have estimated costs. If not, now is the time to collect that information. In addition, you will want to connect with key stakeholders to determine their priorities for the district. One way is via a survey, administered by paper or via email. Or choose an online service, which will survey your contacts and tally results for a fee. If you have the time and people available, you might hold a focus group. This is a small group, representative of your key stakeholders, that meets to discuss key issues. Finally, you may wish to do a research review of what other districts of comparable size and budget are doing in the areas you are examining.

     

    Readington chose to survey its stakeholders. The district sent surveys to staff members, fifth through eighth grade students, parents, community members, and the mayor’s office. The specific issues identified in the Intake Session became questions on the survey to get a wider response. The district held a three-day strategic planning retreat. The superintendent and school board invited key students, parents, staff and community members. They discussed the results of the survey.

     

    4. Set and prioritize goals. You now have a wealth of information and a potentially limitless direction that you can take for your district. You’ll need to sift through that information in order to set and prioritize goals. Divide your issues into those that are “easily doable/inexpensive” and “time-consuming/expensive.” Then, rank each pile in terms of long-term value to the district. Those that rank highly in each pile are your priorities. Match those with your budget to determine which are practical to implement in the near term. Then, put together a timeline of objectives that will bring you to the goal.

     

    Readington discussed its priorities at its three-day retreat. By the third day, the district emerged with a clear vision of the future state of the district. They set five strategic goals, each with specific objectives and a recommended timeline.

     

    5. Share the vision. Schedule a formal presentation in the form of a town hall meeting to share key elements of your strategic plan. Invite all of your stakeholders to give their feedback. This is an important step because it engages them in the process. It will be especially helpful if you request additional funding for these goals in future school elections.

     

    The Readington school district presented the final draft of the strategic plan to the Board of Education, staff members, parents, and the community. This gave everyone the chance to ask clarifying questions, and add details and suggestions.

     

    Now Readington has a fabulous road map for success that will sustain them for the next several years. You, too, can create a strategic plan that will drive your district’s success. For more information on how to get started, contact the NJASA through our website, www.njasa.net or view the NJ Education Brief on this topic.

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  • More With Less?

    Posted by Dr. Rich Bozza at 10/18/2012 4:30:00 PM

    Much has been made in recent years of the need to improve outcomes for students throughout our nation. Politicians and business leaders decry the preparation of students forwhat awaits them after high school. In New Jersey, many people proclaim our students’ high achievement as compared to other states of the nation. Others just as quickly point out that New Jersey has one of the nation’s largest performance gaps between its highest and lowest achievers. In response, New Jersey has joined withforty-four other states endorsing an initiative of the National GovernorsAssociation Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers by adopting the more demanding Common Core State Standards in language arts literacy and mathematics.

    New Jersey is also one of numerous states which have received a waiver of the requirements of the No Child Left Behind law. New Jersey’s new performance target is toreduce the achievement gap by 50% over a six year period.  This is an important goal, particularly inthe largest urban areas of the state where a high percentage of students fail to meet state standards.  We must face the hard reality, however, that it isn’t just the work of local educators which impacts low achievement.  Many of the factors are societal.  Imagine the impact on student achievement if the state established and achieved the same benchmark of a 50% reduction over six years for the rates of incarceration, unemployment,drug addiction, unwanted pregnancy, low birth weight, child abuse and student use of alcohol and drugs.  We have to face the brutal reality and the impact of poverty in this state.  The most recent KIDS COUNT survey indicated that nearly one-third of New Jersey’s children, 619,000, were in low-income families and 27 percent were in a family in which no parent had full-time work. But still, educators are challenged and made fully responsible for bolstering student achievement despite these significant factors beyond their control. Educators accept the challenges and we shall do all that we can with the resources which we have at our disposal to reach the established goals.

    The demands placed on New Jersey educators have indeed increased with goals for improved student achievement predicated on the assumption that education and schools must be reformed.  Before us now is the shift in the evaluation of teachers and school leaders requiring the use of student achievement data.  A primary measure in future evaluations will be the use of student results on standardized assessments in language art and mathematics. Uncertain still are the development and use of standardized assessments in the evaluation of teachers of subjects other than language arts and mathematics. Creating even more anxiety for school leaders is the challenge ofsecuring the finances and technology needed for the planned change from current paper and pencil assessments to digital assessments promised by the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. All this is occurring at a time when school districts have not received the resources promised to them by the School Funding Reform Act.

    I speak daily with Chief Education Officers who are concerned about having the personnel to get all this done, particularly when the school district budget caps on administrative expenses don’t provide the opportunity to secure the staff needed to meet these new challenges.  School leaders often find themselves combating an inaccurate perception that New Jersey’s administrative costs are higher thanother states.  Most people aren’t aware that the percentage of school spending in New Jersey on administration ranks as the eighth lowest in the nation (National Center for Education Statistics). The existing caps on administrative expenses are unnecessary as there exists another overarching spending control – the two percent cap on local taxes.  School district leaders and policy makers need flexibility in budgeting to achieve the outcomes that are being prescribed by the federal and state authorities.

    In a state where the number of students, teachers and support staff has grown considerably over the past two decades, we see that the number of administrators and supervisors has declined during the same period.  With a two percent tax levy in place it’s time for less government regulation on the budgetary discretion given to local policy makers. 

    School leaders need to engage their local legislators in a conversation about the challenges they face and the resources required to get the job done.  Invite your legislators to participate in a district or school event and establish a time to speak with them along with members of your school board or with parents of students about the great work that you do and what you need to get the expanded job done well. We need their leadership to get laws which impede our work changed. There is no better time as the report of the Education TransformationTask Force has focused attention on removing the unnecessary in order for us to get to the important work of improving outcomes for students!

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  • New Jersey Governor’s Task Force Says Time to Change Some School Rules

    Posted by Dr. Rich Bozza at 9/18/2012
    nj

     Nobody likes red tape. So when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie asked an education task force to review the statutes and regulations for New Jersey schools, it was applauded by many—including New Jersey’s Chief Education Officers. The report, released on September 5th, included over 450 recommendations addressing everything from the paper schools must use to professional development and teacher licensing. (Click here to see our video on this topic.)

     

    Kudos to the Task Force for spending the necessary time on the front end to get as much detail as possible on the current regulatory and statutory requirements! They reviewed more than 3,000 pages of statutes and codes. They held public hearings, heard presentations from more than a dozen expert witnesses, met with stakeholder groups, and educators.

     

    The result? The New Jersey Governor’s Education Transformation Task Force concluded it was time to change some school rules. Most of the 239-page report addressed administrative issues such as excessive paperwork and over prescriptive procedures.  The Task Force was aiming to reduce duplication, increase efficiency and provide flexibility for educators—educational reforms that the NJASA supports.

     

    But there were some recommendations that didn’t have to do with red tape at all. As Chief Education Officers, we recommend a closer look.

     

    ·         Take the Opportunity Scholarship Act for example. This Act allows parents to use vouchers to pull their children from public schools and send them to private or parochial schools. Instead of paying a student’s tuition, we say, put that money into the public schools, into technology, professional development, and educational programming. Until we start funding public schools according to the formula set out in the School Funding Reform Act of 2008, we really cannot evaluate their success.

     

    ·         Another area of disagreement is the professional development for superintendents. Currently, superintendents develop a professional growth plan with their colleagues through NJASA. The task force would move that responsibility to the local Board of Education, which is not usually made up of educators. We don’t think it makes sense to move professional development to the responsibility of lay people.

     

    ·         The report also has recommendations on how to make it easier for those who want to set up a charter school. At NJASA, we support charter schools. However, we believe that the voters should determine whether a charter is needed in their community. After all, it is their tax money that will be paying for it.

     

    There is also a lot that is good in the Task Force report:

     

    ·         It streamlines and focuses the professional development needs of teachers based on the needs of students on the school and district levels. 

     

    ·         It empowers and makes the Chief Education Officer responsible for hiring all district personnel while providing the local boards the opportunity to concentrate on policy and accountability.

     

    ·         It identifies, modifies and, in many cases, eliminates unnecessary and cumbersome paperwork, which allows schools to focus on their main objective of student growth and learning.

     

    The task force report includes a timeline to address each change. Work begins in October and is expected to conclude by August 2013.

     

    We applaud the state of New Jersey for making the effort to reduce red tape and increase efficiency. Ultimately, these changes will benefit New Jersey’s students—and that’s the most important result.

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  • What to Expect This School Year

    Posted by Dr. Rich Bozza at 8/28/2012
     
     
     
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    With each school year comes new challenges, and 2012-13 is no exception. Changes in tenure, teacher and student assessment and even virtual charter schools are on the agenda. New Jersey’s Chief Education Officers are taking a close look at the following key issues. For a video summary of these items, click here.

     

    Tenure: Still Work to Be Done

    Governor Christie has signed a new tenure law that removes ineffective teachers even if they have tenure. The law is called “Teacher Effectiveness and Accountability for the Children of New Jersey” or “TEACH NJ.” Under TEACH NJ, teachers are given a rating ranging from highly effective to ineffective. If a teacher receives a partially effective rating, or an ineffective one for two years, they are automatically subject to tenure proceedings and can ultimately lose their tenure.

     

    The law also dictates other changes to tenure.  A more comprehensive mentoring program has been established during a teacher’s first year of employment, and they now need to work four years instead of three in order to be eligible for tenure. There are no changes to teacher seniority however. When it comes to teacher layoffs, it’s still going to be last in—first out.

     

    Educational columnist John Mooney does a good job summarizing the details of the new tenure bill. There is clearly still work to be done.

     

    Take the Time for Authentic Teacher Evaluation

    Part of the tenure piece will be accurately evaluating New Jersey’s teachers. Yet, the teacher evaluation system is still in the pilot phase. The state plans to have an evaluation system ready statewide by the 2013-2014 school year.

     

    We think the new evaluation system will influence decisions about school personnel policies, professional development, promotions, compensation, merit-based bonuses, and reductions in force. This could put job security at risk, and the teaching profession could lose its best educators.

     

    Our message to the task force: take your time to create an authentic assessment. Fast track implementation simply doesn’t work.

     

    No Template for Virtual Charter Schools

    The first full-time virtual charter schools are being considered in New Jersey. But they’re not opening this September. The state delayed the opening a year, asking them to take that time to plan.

     

    We think that’s a wise idea. Existing laws are not equipped to address virtual charter schools, schools that teach classes via a student’s home computer. How will these schools be funded? Monitored? How will compulsory attendance be handled?  There are substantial reasons to take a cautious approach on virtual charter schools.

     

    A New Approach to Student Assessment

    Schools will be implementing the Common Core State Standards, adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia. The new standards will require more frequent and comprehensive testing, including computer-directed performance-based tasks.

     

    The standards are designed to provide a clear and consistent framework to prepare students for college and the workforce. No state will lower its standards to comply with the national norm but rather will build upon the most advanced current thinking.

     

    The New Jersey Department of Education is already working with neighboring states to develop assessments in language arts, mathematics, biology, chemistry and physics. You’ll see some of these tests in New Jersey schools this year. The full launch is scheduled for 2014.

     

    Going Forward

    New Jersey’s schools are on the right track. Chief Education Officers are poised to tackle these issues, and others, to move education forward through the most challenging academic and economic times and into the 21st century.

     
     
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  • State’s Expanded Role in At-Risk Schools Will Benefit Students

    Posted by Dr. Rich Bozza at 5/9/2012
     

    New Jersey’s most troubled schools will be getting more ‘hands on’ help from the state to turn around persistent academic failure and close achievement gaps, a move that NJASA applauds as an effective alternative to the federal program, No Child Left Behind.

     

    No Child Left Behind mandates blanket changes across the board while the new accountability program allows the state to target schools rather than school districts. This change will start to address the specific barriers to learning that are present in schools in underserved areas.

     

    In February, New Jersey received a waiver from certain provisions of No Child Left Behind, a one-size-fits-all federal program. The state then developed its own accountability system of Priority, Focus and Reward schools. Of the 2,500 schools in New Jersey, the state identified 258 at-risk schools and 112 high-achieving schools for the program.

     

    • 75 priority schools include the lowest performing five percent of Title 1 schools in the state over the past three years.
    • 183 focus schools have room for improvement in specific areas, such as graduation rates or student achievement gaps.
    • 112 reward schools show outstanding student achievement or growth over the past three years. Reward schools will have the opportunity to share successful practices with educators across the state.  

     

    It’s anticipated that the state will manage this program via satellite bureaus known as Regional Achievement Centers.

     

    Chief Education Officers will be working closely with the state to remove barriers to learning in these schools. But that’s not the greatest challenge that we face. It’s minimizing the effects of circumstances outside of school – from poverty to gang violence – that can hinder educational progress. There is a lot that can be done to ‘clean up’ these areas and minimize these negative effects. We’re calling on the communities to step up to the plate and make this program a home run.

     
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  • Teaching Profession Could Lose Best Educators

    Posted by Dr. Rich Bozza at 3/30/2012
     

    A recent survey1 revealed that teachers have the lowest level of job satisfaction in more than two decades, an unintended consequence of recent budget cuts and other changes in schools. Providing teachers with additional support, and elevating the profession to a high-value career, are necessary steps to improve the satisfaction score.

     

    If a business executive had to do his/her job without support from an administrative team, co-workers or management, it would likely be in a start-up business. Schools are not start-ups, yet teachers are doing their jobs without a lot of support. At the same time, they’re worried about whether they’ll have a job next year.

     

    With the recent widespread teacher layoffs, there are many educators considering career changes as well–and others reconsidering whether to enter the field.

     

    Job security was one reason cited for lower satisfaction scores. The 28th annual MetLife Survey of the American Teacher found that only 44 percent were “very satisfied” with their jobs, down from 59 percent just two years ago. In addition, there was an increase in the number of teachers considering leaving teaching for another profession and in the number of teachers who do not feel their jobs are secure. The 2012 survey was based on telephone interviews with 1,001 U.S. public school teachers.

     

    “Teaching in the U.S. is unfortunately no longer a high-status occupation,” according to Andreas Schleicher, Deputy Director for Education and Special Advisor on Education Policy for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), as reported in the New York Times.2 “Despite the characterization of some that teaching is an easy job, with short hours and summers off, the fact is that successful, dedicated teachers in the U.S. work long hours for little pay and, in many cases, insufficient support from their leadership.”

     

    There are many factors discouraging capable students from entering the teaching profession. These include low job security and low pay relative to that of other careers requiring commensurate education and training. In addition, the profession carries relatively low prestige.

     

    That leads to a need to elevate the profession of teaching in the same way that high-performing countries like Korea, Singapore and Finland currently do. The Department of Education is working toward this goal with the RESPECT Project.3 I support these efforts and others such as mentoring that help teachers develop themselves as professionals. I believe that will go a long way toward increasing teacher satisfaction scores.

     

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  • How iPads, Apps, Twitter and More Engage and Educate Students

    Posted by Dr. Rich Bozza at 2/9/2012

    It used to be that students had to turn off their phones and other technology when they entered the classroom. Now, in some cases, they’re directed to power them on. It’s part of the drive toward technology for schools seeking to meet new statewide curriculum standards requiring students to master 21st century skills. That means many educators are now embracing once-banned smart phones, iPads and similar devices, as well as social media platforms from YouTube to Twitter.

     

    But just what does the 21st century classroom look like in New Jersey? It’s powerful, engaging, and unlike anything you’ve experienced as a student – even if you graduated as recently as the year 2000.  

     

    As chairman of the NJASA Technology Committee, Fort Lee School District Superintendent Steven Engravalle has kept his pulse on technology in the schools, both in New Jersey and nationwide. According to him, the most common use of technology in schools today is probably Web 2.0 – an interactive experience through social media and connectivity – blogs, wikis, Google docs. Teachers and students are posting blogs and wikis and sharing a dialogue. They’re able to have real conversations about literary work or an event in history, for example. Importantly, educators can set up Web 2.0 as a structured environment, so it’s safe from inappropriate content. It’s very interactive; students are fully engaged in the subjects they are studying.

     

    Historically, students participated in learning more passively. When Steven and I were in school, sitting and listening to the teacher, the retention rate was probably around 30 percent. The retention rate goes up exponentially when students interact with the subject through an authentic experience. Technology is the tool that allows students to do this.

     

    Imagine learning about a country in Africa. Then think about what it would be like, not only reading about it or seeing images of the country, but speaking with its residents. That’s what technology allows – taking learning to a deeper level. The teacher no longer has to be the holder of the content. There’s literally no limit to the amount of knowledge that students can acquire. The teacher’s role shifts to framing the discussion. S/he doesn’t teach students what to think but rather how to think. It’s a completely new paradigm for instruction.

     

    Educator Ian Jukes said it best. The director of the 21st Century Fluency Project pointed out, “This isn’t about teaching PowerPoint; it is about teaching kids to be better communicators. This isn’t about teaching Microsoft Word; it is about teaching kids to be better writers. Learning about the technology is nothing but an incidental (but essential) byproduct of that process. The real issue in education is about thinking – the technology is just the vehicle that will allow us to go there.”

     

    But technology in schools does not come without its challenges. You might think the main impediment to equipping all of our schools with technology is cost. That is a significant factor, but thanks to the generosity of institutions such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Apple Computer, it’s less of a hindrance for some districs than you might expect. And while cost still remains an impediment for many of us, a more significant limitation could be educators unfamiliar with the next level of technology.

     

    The most difficult obstacles to overcome are fear and complacency. Educators are in a comfort zone. They’ve been teaching a certain way for a long time now. Change takes courage. But I think teachers are ready for technology if it’s presented in the right way.

     

    Steve shared the story of one teacher who had a longstanding career in the public school system.  She had taught for 38 years. When she started, she didn’t know what a mouse was, or how to turn on the computer. But we met her at her level, and worked slowly so that she was comfortable. Today, she’s the technology coordinator for her building!

     

    Success stories like these show the importance of teacher training. The students are the natives to technology; teachers who grew up before the age of iPhones are the newcomers. We need to stay on top of the latest technologies so that we can share them with our students.

     

    That’s why the NJASA holds the TECHSPO conference each year. A record number of attendees participated this past January – teachers, administrators, curriculum directors, and school board members. This shows a commitment to incorporate the technologies that have already permeated their students’ everyday life, in a way to engage students and advance learning.

     

    You’ll find a variety of options already in New Jersey’s schools: laptops, Smart boards and electronic readers. How about iPads to create a 1:1 learning climate? Textbooks on the iPad feature interactive animations, diagrams, photos and video – literally bringing the content to life in a way that we never have before. Tech tools also can launch a love of literacy; read the classics or the latest release from your favorite author. Tweeting can encourage student achievement. Online courses are growing at the college and university levels – why not utilize them more in K-12? We’re trying to encourage teachers to try Podcasting. That’s the perfect way for a child who misses school due to illness to see the lesson and catch up on the work. 

     

    We are more capable than ever to deliver information and instruction to students when they are ready to learn, not just during a schedule preplanned by the teacher.  ‘Just in time’ delivery, a concept that transformed the need for manufacturing, service and retail warehousing of supplies, is now being applied to student learning needs through technology.

     

    Many New Jersey schools are already strong in their use of technology. Howell Township Schools placed first among mid-sized schools using technology in the seventh annual Digital School Districts Survey conducted by e.Republic’s Center for Digital Education and the National School Boards Association. The purpose of the survey was “to recognize exemplary school boards and districts’ use of technology to govern the district, communicate with students, parents and the community and to improve district operations.” Springfield, N.J. public schools placed first in the small student population category.

     

    The first place winner in the large student population category – Clark County School District – was represented at NJASA’s TECHSPO. Clark County educator and administrator Jhone Ebert identified 21st century learning as part of a greater learning community that includes online learning and 24/7 access to resources. Students benefit from highly interactive and explorative learning experiences that also teach valuable technology skills.

     

    Given that schools have embraced technology, what is the real impact on learning? Take away the term, technology, and think of it as a tool – not a magic bullet. Technology allows us to differentiate instruction so that the advanced student gets what s/he needs while the remedial student also thrives. Technology allows students to learn at their own pace. Technology provides the immediate data that educators need to make decisions on next steps in instruction. Technology allows us to address each of Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences. Students can embrace the learning styles that work best for them: visual-spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, linguistic, and logical-mathematical.

     

    Marshall McCullen once said, “Our age of anxiety is in great part the result of trying to do today’s jobs with yesterday’s tools.” The schools that allow students just 40 minutes of computer time a week are putting them at a disadvantage. You couldn’t be globally competitive with access to technology just 40 minutes a week.

     

    It’s time to power up, and you’ll find the Chief Education Officers at the helm of this journey. They are responsible for bringing schools into the 21st century with state-of-the-art facilities, technology and intellectual property that enable educators to engage and teach students, and students to learn and prepare for higher education, professional careers and trades.

     

    The days of ‘chalk and talk’ alone are over. Technology advancements are coming at us quickly, and we have to adapt accordingly to ensure that our children can remain globally competitive in today’s world – and tomorrow’s.

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  • ‘Items to Watch’ in 2012

    Posted by Dr. Rich Bozza at 1/5/2012

    School Budget Vote, Teacher Evaluation, Curriculum Standards Among ‘Items to Watch’ in 2012


    The new year means continued challenges for New Jersey schools, from developing an authentic assessment for teachers, principals and students to moving the date for school elections and budget votes.

     

    The following items warrant our attention.

     

    1.       Shifting Budget Vote to November Will Benefit Schools

     

    A new bill to move New Jersey’s April school budget and election votes to November is on track to pass. Sponsored by State Assemblyman Louis Greenwald (D-Camden), this is the first bill in decades to receive bipartisan support, possibly due to its flexibility, according to the NJASA. Districts are able to choose whether or not to move the election date from April to November. The change in date may be made by the school board, municipal council or by voter referendum.

     

    The proposed bill also eliminates budget votes for towns below the 2 percent cap. If the budget is above the cap, the excess amount would be put to a vote.

     

    This is a smart move for New Jersey schools. Historically, April elections have had low voter turnout. By shifting elections to November, there will be increased participation. This bill also will help districts whose below-cap budgets are being rejected by voters.

     

    2.       Teacher and Principal Evaluation Must Be Authentic

     

    New Jersey’s schools are under pressure to implement a new teacher and principal assessment program for the 2012-13 school year. The new assessment program is anticipated to influence decisions about school personnel policies; professional development; promotion; compensation; merit-based bonuses; and tenure and reductions in force.

     

    Currently, 11 schools are testing the pilot program through March 2012. The program is expected to be a requirement for New Jersey schools for the 2012-13 school year, though the assessment in the initial year may not be counted toward teacher and principal tenure.

     

    NJASA urges the state to take some time to evaluate the results of the pilot program and talk to administrators and staff to obtain feedback to make this an authentic assessment.

     

    The “one-size-fits-all” approach might not address specific situations such as posed by the following questions:

     

    • If one classroom has a number of special education students or limited English speaking students, should we rate the teachers the same on their students’ test scores? 
    • What if there is a team-teaching approach? 
    • How do you credit each teacher for the performance of students? 
    • Does the influence of the second grade teacher affect the outcomes of the students taught by next year’s third grade teacher?

     

    3.       Core Curriculum Standards Will Update Student Assessment

     

    The Common Core State Standards, adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, will change the face of student assessment. The new standards will require more frequent and more comprehensive testing, including computer-directed, performance-based tasks.

     

    Developed in collaboration with teachers, school administrators, and experts, the standards are designed to provide a clear and consistent framework to prepare students for college and the workforce. No state will lower its standards to comply with the national norm but rather will build upon the most advanced current thinking.

     

    The New Jersey Department of Education is already working in concert with neighboring states to develop and disseminate exemplary curriculum and periodic assessments in language arts, mathematics, biology, chemistry and physics which schools can use beginning with the 2012-2013 school year.

     

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