North Carolina: Preloading Professional Development to Ensure Potential Success

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When a state makes the decision to award a small number of high-dollar grants, the stakes are considerable. For North Carolina's IMPACT Model School Grant applicants, professional development started long before a single dollar was ever awarded.

Several factors contributed to our decision to award 11 grants of $450,000 each with our No Child Left Behind Act, Title II, Part D: Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) competitive money:

    First, based on early calculations of initial eligibility, we knew that little more than a third of our then 119 school systems and 96 charter schools met the federal high-poverty/high-technology need qualifications.

  • Second, we knew that we needed to show results quickly. A direct, research-proven correlation of technology use to student achievement based on standardized test scores in only three years, as proposed by the U.S. Department of Education, would be difficult to produce regardless of conditions. And with small, scattershot grants, it would be pretty much impossible to prove.
  • Finally, North Carolina had "been there, done that." Federal Technology Literacy Challenge Fund grants had accomplished their intent of spreading technology dollars across the state. This allowed systems to provide some hardware, software and professional development to a majority of the state's schools and teachers. But concrete, systemic correlation to student achievement was difficult to identify. We had anecdotal data, but little valid research.

A Collaborative Model

In light of these conditions, we decided to issue a high-dollar, highly prescriptive grant, the IMPACT Model School Grant. The model itself is based on "The North Carolina Educational Technology Plan" (http://tps.dpi.state.nc.us/Tech2000rev). Based on the research to date, the model outlines the infrastructure, hardware, software, professional development and personnel necessary to implement an effective technology program at the building level.

The linchpin of the model's success is personnel - a certified instructional technology facilitator who works in partnership with the school's existing library media specialist, as well as a building-level technician and/or technology assistant. It is a collaborative model, one in which the instructional technology facilitator and school library media specialist plan with teachers in a technology-rich, resource-rich instructional environment. The grant funded the implementation of the model - as outlined in the technology plan - at the optimum level.

A Colorado study titled "The Impact of School Library Media Centers on Academic Achievement," which was completed in 1992 and published in 1993, has been replicated in 12 other states since its publication. It found that schools with professionally trained school library media coordinators, abundant technology, and high collaboration between the media coordinator and classroom teachers had higher student achievement than those that did not. It seems justifiable to assume the same correlations in certified instructional technology positions and services.

In "D'es It Compute?" (1998), Wenglinsky identifies technology, particularly as it is used to encourage higher-order and critical-thinking skills, as central to increased student achievement. He also recognizes that teacher professional development in the use of technology is critical to student academic success. Finally, the National Staff Development Council focuses on teacher professional development as a system for improving student learning. While it d'es not single out technology training, it d'es identify the key elements of good staff development: training that is results-driven, standards-based and job-embedded within a collaborative teaching environment.

These key training and support elements are found in the instructional technology facilitator's role, as delineated in IMPACT. The above studies, along with many others, as well as North Carolina's experience in monitoring Technology Literacy Challenge Fund grants, point to the need for and importance of high teacher support and a collaborative environment for the use of technology in the classroom. This was the driving force behind the vision of the library media coordinator and instructional technology facilitator partnership inherent in the IMPACT model.

Indicators of Success

Obviously, few schools would be able to write a successful grant application without a clear understanding of the model. Furthermore, the cultural change that the model implies necessitated an up-front commitment not only from the school itself, but also from the system-level administration. Thus, with grant applications due in January 2003, we issued the request for proposal (RFP) in the summer of 2002 and began "preloaded" professional development.

Once the 43 eligible schools were identified through their "Intent to Apply" submissions, the regional consultants began the yeoman's work of helping each school's faculty and administration understand the IMPACT Model, as well as the actual work behind implementing the model if they were to be awarded the grant. We saw this professional development as vitally important to the grant process. Any change is hard, whether it be for reasons good or bad. Ideally, we would have total school and community understanding and buy-in before a single word was committed to paper.

One initial staff development presentation/visit to each applying school was required; subsequent visits were at the school's invitation and subject to the consultants' scheduling constraints. Some applicants limited their assistance to the one visit, while others requested our consultants' services for up to five daylong visits over the four-month process. All applicant schools had indicated how important this professional development was, not just in preparation for applying for the grant, but in examining their school's academic goals and its culture. As one principal said before the finalist interviews: "Regardless of our success here today, we have learned so much about ourselves and our school. We intend to implement the IMPACT Model whether or not we get the money. We can't go back now."

While we are confident that in another two years we will be able to show that the IMPACT Model has increased student academic performance based on the North Carolina standardized testing program, we are also cognizant that this is often difficult to quantify directly to increased use of technology. Therefore, we have built in other indicators of success as well: student attitudes, which encompass attendance rates and discipline referrals; an examination of the types of students and teachers who function best in a technology-rich, resource-rich environment; and an assessment of the characteristics of administrators who cultivate a climate in which these technology-savvy teachers flourish.

We believe that preloading professional development before the grant award determination allowed us to choose schools that had a high potential for success; thus, increasing our chances of seeing quantifiable results within a short time frame. In addition, it allowed us to clarify a model, create a vision and solidify a commitment to a statewide initiative that promises to help build a technology-rich, resource-rich learning environment for North Carolina teachers and students.

References

Lance, K., L. Welborn and C. Hamilton-Pennell. 1993. "The Impact of School Library Media Centers on Academic Achievement." Colorado Department of Education.

National Staff Development Council. 2001. NSDC's Standards for Staff Development. Online: www.nsdc.org/standards.

Wenglinsky, H. 1998. "D'es It Compute?: The Relationship Between Educational Technology and Student Achievement in Mathematics." Princeton, N.J.: Educational Testing Service. Online: ftp://ftp.ets.org/pub/res/technolog.pdf.


9-Step Grant Application Process

  1. Statewide videoconference
  2. Regional consultant visits all 47 eligible school systems
  3. School system identification of single school to apply
  4. Submission of intent to apply
  5. Further professional development for school teams by regional consultants
  6. Grant submission
  7. Grant review by outside reviewers and identification of 16 school finalists
  8. Applicant team interviews
  9. Final 11 IMPACT Model Schools chosen

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2004 issue of THE Journal.

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