5 ways technology can support educators in an environment of expanding school choice

Re-posting a story from www.eschoolnews.com -- Taking a mixed bag of opinions into consideration, here's how edtech can support educators amid school choice.

By Dave Adams

President Trump’s recent education budget proposal has received a great deal of attention for cutting education by $9.2 billion or 13.6 percent. The administration is proposing an additional $400 million for vouchers and $1 billion more in Title 1 funds to support school choice. While details of the budget will evolve as it moves through the congressional approval process, it is likely that we will see an increase in funding that expands school choice.

School choice is a controversial topic with advocates believing it will drive innovation in education and civil rights advocates and education reform leaders raising concerns about the unintended consequences to public schools, especially those serving the most vulnerable population, low-income families.

In a recent study by the Associated Press NORC Center for Public Research examining Americans’ understanding and attitude towards school choice, 47 percent of respondents said they favor expansion of charter schools and 45 percent favor vouchers. In that same study, 58 percent have heard little about charter schools and 66 percent have heard little about school vouchers.

As we prepare for the expansion of school choice, it’s critical to consider the facts and research:

Research and Facts on School Choice

--A study by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools indicates there are more than 6,900 charter schools, enrolling an estimated 3.1 million students, triple the number of the past decade.

--In a 10-year longitudinal study evaluating student academic outcomes at KIPP schools, school choice was found to have a significantly positive effect on student outcomes, with the strongest gains in elementary grade levels and lesser gains at the high school level.

--On the other hand, a study of the Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP) found substantially reduced academic performance among the students at charter schools. In this study, negative effects were most highly concentrated in schools with the lowest tuition cost.

--A Florida study of charter school graduates found that they earned 12 percent more post-graduation than traditional public school graduates. This same study found that the charter school graduates were 12 percent more likely to persist through the second year of college enrollment.

--A Texas study found results that contradict the Florida results. When looking at all types of charter schools the study found no impact on test scores and a negative impact on earnings.

Taking this mixed bag of facts into consideration, here are five ways education technology can support educators in a shift toward school choice as it presents new opportunities and challenges.

1. Innovation and Improving Schools

A key principle behind school choice is competition. When schools compete for student enrollments, they will innovate and differentiate themselves in an attempt to provide higher quality education and better meet the needs of 21st century learners.

A number of charter schools are breaking away from traditional paradigms and reimagining learning, tapping into how students learn and the physical educational environment. Schools are adopting project-based, competency-based, and collaborative learning while incorporating new technology in authentic, relevant experiences.

These innovations include a wide variety of programs from blended and personalized learning and 1:1 device initiatives to more cutting edge programs that leverage 3D printing, robotics, and virtual reality. High Tech High, a network of charter schools in San Diego, CA is an example of how educators can break traditional notions to provide students with innovative spaces to encourage authentic, real-world learning experiences.

2. Data

One of the unintended consequences of school choice is increased student mobility. More choice means more students will move from their neighborhood school to a new school of their choice. This means new students often arrive in classrooms with no background information or data.

As students move from one school to another, administrators and teachers need access to student data and special needs information in order to provide appropriate services and programs. Digital data, common data formats, and interoperable technology systems allow for the seamless transfer of student information and can make student mobility less burdensome for educators, students, and families.

3. Classroom Management

Technology that helps teachers be more efficient at basic classroom management also frees teachers to provide more instruction. It has the ability to create time and space for innovation, helping teachers meet the expanding needs of school choice. Technology can streamline classroom management tasks like grouping students by academic performance levels and facilitating small group or individualized instruction.

Electronic and online gradebook systems that help track student progress can free teachers from mundane tasks and provide time for new instructional approaches. For example, Edmentum’s latest individualized learning solution Exact Path, gives teachers real-time, actionable information that can help shape their lesson plans.

4. Academic Placement

A study released in 2015 by the Georgia Governor’s Office on Student Achievement found that as student mobility increased, scores on the College and Career Ready Performance Index decreased. Knowing that expanding school choice will increase student mobility, it is critical for educators to find ways to prevent or minimize this achievement gap.

As students change schools, especially across district boundaries, academic performance data doesn’t always follow them. In many cases, educators do not have the ability to place students at appropriate curriculum levels.

Technologies like computer-adaptive assessments can help by providing quick, efficient placement on an academic growth scale and give teachers immediate information that establishes students’ knowledge and skill levels. Adaptive assessments can facilitate the integration of new students and ease student mobility.

5. Adaptive and Personalized Learning

Another way education technology can support schools is through the automation of processes that help integrate students into new environments.

One example is adaptive learning systems. These combine assessment and instruction, automatically assign content based on that data, and track individualized progress as students demonstrate mastery of learning. Imagine a student that comes to a new school for the first time and is placed in a classroom with a teacher that has no prior knowledge of the student’s ability. Adaptive learning systems can identify that student’s individual need, provide the appropriate learning, and help accelerate academic growth while limiting the time burden for teachers.

In the long history of education and reform, charter schools and school choice are relatively new concepts. And the results are mixed. One thing is certain: While education reformers, civil rights advocates, and political leaders debate future education policies, schools and educators will adapt and rise to the challenge of educating future generations.