Wednesday, June 27, 2012

EduStat 2012 - Day One Case Studies

In addition to prominent to keynote speakers, EduStat also featured experienced educators from around the state of Idaho and the country who shared their perspectives in Case Studies. Attendees chose from among a number of these Case Studies to attend during the second half of the conference each day. Here are two Case Studies from Day One:

Mrs. Fowler-Mack and Dr. Brown share their reform efforts in Cleveland.

“Cleveland’s Plans for Transforming Schools,” Christine Fowler-Mack and Dr. Russ Brown

Dr. Russ Brown and Christine Fowler Mack traveled to Boise to share their work in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.

Dr. Brown is the Deputy Chief of Organizational Accountability for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. He is a published author, formal children’s mental health professional, and former university researcher working to embed the use of data in goal setting, progress monitoring, and decision making at all levels of the academic process.

Mrs. Fowler-Mack has experience as a Superintendent and as Chief of Staff of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. She currently works as the Chief of Innovative Schools and Programs in Ohio’s second-largest school district and is at the forefront of some of Ohio’s most ambitious school reform efforts. She has won several distinguished awards for her leadership ability, and her focus has been aggressive systemic and legislative change intended to ensure the academic success of every child in Cleveland.

The presenters started with an assessment of the past as a foil for their vision of the future.

Cleveland had been struggling with a low graduation rate and uninspiring test scores, and feedback from the community made it clear that students were not prepared for the workforce when they graduated. While there were signs of some positive growth, that growth was much too slow.

Additionally, Cleveland’s school buildings were not being used efficiently. Some schools were considerably underpopulated, while others were at or near capacity.

So Cleveland took action, implementing broad, high-level reforms to bring much needed change. The city took a proactive stance. It began actively seeking great teaching talent and instituted performance-based accountability for all schools. Cleveland also eliminated seniority as the sole determinant in any employment or assignment decisions.

The city took a look at its schools and resolved to grow the number of high-performing district and charter schools and close and replace failing schools. As a result, it closed sixteen buildings due to poor performance and lackluster enrollment. It then gave the remaining schools more autonomy. The schools were divided into groups. Higher performing schools now get more autonomy; struggling schools work with the active support of the Central Office. It has also facilitated district-charter partnerships.

The focus of the Central Office has evolved as well, moving from a more compliance-based role to one that focuses on service. The administration now focuses on key support and governance roles and gives schools more authority. The Central Office also spends more time visiting schools and learning and supporting school’s needs. Its employees are dispatched into districts to maintain a connection with what’s happening in the schools.

To ensure transparency, reformers created the Cleveland Transformation Alliance to ensure accountability for all public schools in the city. The Alliance is composed of representatives of parents, community members, business leaders, civic organizations, and the Board of Education, and the goal is to promote clear and ongoing conversations about education in Cleveland. The Alliance serves as a watchdog and helps keep everyone focused.

Cleveland has also started two “new tech” high schools to respond to reports that students were not ready for the workforce. New tech high schools are 1:1 programs. Students work in project groups to address relevant issues that keep them engaged in school and connect them with the community. These schools have already had a very promising impact on student outcomes.

For  Fowler-Mack and Brown, the challenge is to find ways to accelerate the positive changes they are already seeing. The goal is to graduate students prepared to enter college without remediation.  

Mrs. Chavez interacts with Mr. Gural as they discuss a math problem in real-time over the IEN.
“Distance Learning over the Idaho Education Network: Not Your Average Online Class,” Dave Gural and Michelle Chavez

Idaho educators Dave Gural (who retired this year) and Michelle Chavez took time to share with EduStat attendees their methods and experiences teaching real-time synchronous courses over the Idaho Education Network (IEN).

Mrs. Chavez has been a teacher at Weiser High School for 17 years, where she has taught a range of English and Literature classes, including dual-credit classes and IEN classes. She has been teaching over the IEN since its inception. Mrs. Chavez also serves in several leadership roles and has earned several prominent awards, including Teacher of the Year at Weiser High School and the 2012 International Society for Key Women Educators Award. She has a passion for human rights. Mrs. Chavez teaches a Holocaust Literature course, and her permanent Holocaust exhibit is on display at the Snake River Heritage Museum in Weiser, Idaho.

Mr. Gural began teaching in 1969 and has taught continuously for 43 years, with experience at all levels of mathematics at the junior and senior high school levels. He has been the calculus teacher at Eagle High School for the last nine years. His classes include Calculus I and II, both for Concurrent Credit through Boise State. The Eagle High Calculus program is currently the only program approved by BSU for Concurrent Credit in Calculus II. Mr. Gural has twice been honored with Teacher of the Year distinctions, once in Washington and once at Eagle High School. He is one of the pioneers of the IEN in Idaho.

Mr. Gural and Mrs. Chavez demonstrated the power of the IEN and the promise of high quality remote learning that it delivers on. Mrs. Chavez was physically present in the room, while Mr. Gural  joined in synchronously via the IEN. It was great to hear from these experienced teachers, and to see the doors digital learning has already opened in the state of Idaho.

Mr. Gural demonstrated the impressive technology setup in his classroom. A screen in the front of the classroom and a screen in the back allow the students in the classroom to see and hear one another and Mr. Gural. Students can raise their hands to ask questions in real time or interact with students in other classrooms.

With one touch of a button, Mr. Gural can toggle between multiple cameras and camera views, giving students a view of his desk from multiple angles, as well as a view of the blackboard as he works. But those are just some of Mr. Gural’s options. Switching views from his document camera (think digital overhead projector) where he works on scratch paper, to his computer screen that allows him to write digitally, or to any one of the devices he has connected to the feed (graphing calculators, an iPad with an app that lets him graph 3D maps, etc.) is just as easy. It’s surprising, really, just how versatile the system is.

Mr. Gural uses his document camera so students can follow along as he works on scratch paper. In the top right of the screen, Mr. Gural and his class can see themselves and one another.
Mrs. Chavez shared how she interacts with her remote classroom—just the same as she does with her physical classrooms. Mrs. Chavez teaches her Holocaust course over the IEN. A proctor in the remote classroom supervises students and ensures everything is working as it should. Mrs. Chavez shared that she has not had student behavioral issues.

Both teachers were enthusiastic about their IEN experiences, with Mr. Gural, who retired this year after 43 years of teaching, obtaining permission from Eagle High School to proudly demonstrate the classroom where he has honed his digital learning craft.

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