Technology + Online + Industry + Partnerships

‘Freedom to Learn’ Gets a Thumbs-Up

In BriefA new report says Michigan’s ambitious 1-to-1 programis thus far hitting its goals.

AS THE NUMBER of 1-to-1 laptop initiatives grows across the nation, organizations are forming to support the integration of 21st-century tools such as notebook and tablet PCs into the daily classroom environment. In one example, Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft took part in Michigan’s Freedom to Learn program (FTL), whose participants now number 23,000 students and 1,500 teachersacross the state’s 100 school districts.

The Center for Research in Educational Policy (CREP) at the University of Memphis (TN) recently released a report evaluating how well FTL met its goals during 2004- 2005, the program’s first year. Briefly, those goals were to:

  • enhance student learning and achievement
  • broaden educational opportunities through access to technology
  • foster the effective use of wireless technology through professional development of teachers, administrators, and staff
  • provide parents with the tools they need to become more active in their children’s education
  • create collaborative networks among the program’s participants (students, teachers, and coaches)

CREP’s FTL report was built from classroom observation, surveys, interviews, and audit reports. The surveys were given to 279 teachers, 63 lead teachers, 16 super coaches (educators who received FTL professional development), and 4,245 students, primarily sixth-graders. Interviews and classroom visits were conducted by a group of third-party onsite advisers, who studied approximately 60 of the participating classes and their interaction with technology. The advisers used questionnaires specifically drawn up for each of the four groups and used the responses compiled from those questionnaires to identify the technology, instructional, and system needs of all the participants.

Overall, the report’s findings are optimistic, showing the benefits of computer use in the classroom. For example, 90 percent of the 16 surveyed super coaches agreed that FTL has increased students’ desire to learn as well as student-teacher interaction. Likewise, the survey showed that more than 85 percent of students were glad to have use of the notebooks and were looking forward to having them the following school year. The report also says that in addition to fulfilling its stated goals, FTL has successfully educated teachers on how to integrate technology into their classrooms, increasing their confidence and helping them create lessons that are aligned to state and federal curriculum standards.

Although the evaluation of the FTL program is largely positive, the report says that the laptops were put to use in only one-third of classes, and only 17 percent of the time for instructional delivery. This may be due to the newness of the program, not an indicator of the initiative’s potential impact or eventual implementation in the classroom, but it’s certainly something to watch as FTL matures.

The full results of the CREP study can be found on its website.

Help Wanted: Human Resources for K-12

DEMAND IS HIGH for what NCLB calls “highly qualified” educators, and options are slowly opening up for K-12 institutions to find and hire people who meet that standard. New Mexico’s Gadsden Independent School District and New York’s Syracuse City School District and Oswego City School District have HR down to a system.

Gadsden ISD recently purchased Windsor Management Group’s Infinite Visions software suite and WinOcular’s Applicant Tracking system. Infinite Visions can be used to administrate financial systems such as payroll and benefits management, as well as education certification and employee evaluations. The WinOcular program allows Gadsden to search nationwide for principal candidates and prescreen applicants for teaching positions.

Syracuse City SD and Oswego City SD have both purchased Central Xchange’s Sub-IT software for the 2006-2007 school year. Sub-IT is designed to streamline the process of absent-teacher reporting and locating substitutes.

The program uses a framework of telecommunications systems and web-enabled applications that allows teachers to notify their schools when they are going to be absent, either by phone or online. Sub-IT then allows administrators to find substitutes who are not only available, but also the best qualified among the pool of substitutes to maintain the classroom curricular requirements adhered to by the absent teachers.

Awards and Contests

MULTIMILLION-DOLLAR BOND GOES TO AZ CHARTER SCHOOLS. Three Arizona charter schools—Sequoia Charter in Mesa, Arizona Conservatory for Arts and Academics in Phoenix, and Sequoia Village in Show Low—are planning major renovations and the building of new facilities, thanks to a $28,600,000 bond awarded to the three schools by the Industrial Development Authority of the County of Pima as part of its $28,600,000 Education Facilities Revenue Bonds Series.

Together, the schools will use the money to pay for construction and renovation projects at their three campuses, including: a distance learning center, a new gymnasium, and expanded special educational services for Sequoia Charter School; a new Home School Resource Support Center for Sequoia Village; and new facilities for the Arizona Conservatory for the Arts and Academics.

QUESTIA GRANT WINNERS CHOSEN. On July 5, three educators were randomly selected from a pool of 462 who participated in a survey from the online educational library Questia.

A $5,000 library grant was awarded to Consuela Smith, the superintendent of Borrego Springs Unified School District (CA). A second library grant of $2,500 was awarded to Holly Fisher, a history teacher from Pine Forge Academy (PA). And Scott Thomas, an English teacher at Golden West High School (CA), received a 50-volume set of books from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. The 12-question survey was aimed at discovering which internet sources the nation’s educators deem reliable for use in the classroom.

Online Learning

AOL AND AMDG PARTNERS IN VIRTUAL EDUCATION. In time for the fall 2006 semester, AMDG, an online education and training institution, and AOL@SCHOOL have joined up to offer high school students the opportunity to earn credits toward their diplomas via online courses.

Not only are regular courses available online, but AP level as well. Students can access their courses through the free K-12 education portal on the AOL@SCHOOL home page, where students can register for classes that may not be offered at their own high schools, then transfer their credits.


DISTRICT CIO LEAVES FOR POLYVISION. Kim Quinn, formerly the chief information officer of the Cobb County School District (GA), has joined PolyVision as business development director, education. Quinn’s responsibilities will include directing and building the company’s education market strategy.

Quinn has spent time as the director of instructional technology for the state of Georgia and as the director of technology for the state of Maine. Quinn worked with the former governor of Maine, Angus King, to execute the first statewide 1-to-1 laptop initiative for seventh- and eighthgraders. She has been a member of the Consortium for School Networking and the State Educational Technology Directors Association.

Robert Pasternack

SETTING SAIL: Robert Pasternack,
a onetime Bush administration official,
has joined Voyager Expanded Learning.

EX-BUSH OFFICIAL JOINS VOYAGER EXPANDED LEARNING. Former US Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services Robert H. Pasternack has been named Voyager Expanded Learning’s senior vice president for special education. Voyager Expanding Learning provides math, reading, and professional development programs for school districts throughout the country.

Pasternack served in the Bush administration from 2001 to 2004. Prior to his stay in the capital, he spent 30 years in education, working with children with disabilities and with their families.

Warren Simmons

ON BOARD: Warren Simmons,
Plato Learning’s new addition.

ANNENBERG DIRECTOR NAMED TO PLATO BOARD. Warren Simmons has joined the board of directors at eLearning provider Plato Learning.

A 25-year veteran in education, Simmons is currently the executive director of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University (RI). Before joining the Annenberg Institute in 1998, Simmons headed the Philadelphia Education Fund, a nonprofit organization that worked with the School District of Philadelphia in implementing the district’s “Children Achieving” reform strategy. Simmons has held a variety of positions, including working as a grant maker at the National Institute of Education and at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, where he developed and funded initiatives on youth and adult literacy, community development, and urban school reform.

This article originally appeared in the 08/01/2006 issue of THE Journal.