Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S10
EDUCATION WEEK n
April 15, 2015
Blended Learning: Breaking Down Barriers > www.edweek.org/go/blended-barriers
Brings Rewards for D.C.
By Benjamin Herold
ohn P. Rice, the manager of blended learning for the 46,000-student
District of Columbia schools, wants every elementary
school in his district using st Math.
But he's stopped short of centrally mandating that principals
adopt the program, instead going with an opt-in model-and
regular doses of friendly encouragement.
"If I had told all 70 schools three years ago they had to do it, I
have no idea where we would be now," Mr. Rice said. "This way, schools
are banging on my door to get [st Math.] It will probably happen in every
school soon, but it won't be forced."
During the 2012-13 school year, as part of a larger effort to change
mathematics instruction to better reflect the goals of the Common Core
State Standards, the district adopted the software. st Math's developers,
the mind Research Institute, lined up corporate partners to help cover
the hefty initial sign-up cost: $34,000 for schools with fewer than 350
students and $48,000 for schools with 350 students or more.
Thirty-one of the city's 70 elementary schools opted to use the software
that school year.
But just 11 of those schools met the mind Research Institute's criteria
for "full implementation": 85 percent of students getting at least
halfway through the syllabus.
One major obstacle: balancing the student-computing time needed to
use st Math effectively with the demands of three other blended-learning
math-software programs the central office had also recommended.
"It was definitely a function of overload," Mr. Rice said. "Some
schools just had a hard time being able to regularly get [students] in
the computer lab."
Such challenges are fairly common with district-level blendedlearning-software
adoptions, said Steven M. Ross, a Johns Hopkins
senior research scientist.
But in a study released in 2014, Mr. Ross and colleagues found that
most district superintendents, chief academic officers, technology directors,
and other high-level officials still preferred centralized procurement
of instructional software.
That was particularly true when it came to buying software sought
for core instruction, as opposed to a supplemental or enrichment tools.
"The bigger the product gets, the more value there is to [purchasing]
being centralized," Mr. Ross said.
One reason: Large urban districts in particular have very high
student-mobility rates, and it can create problems when students are
expected to start with a brand-new curriculum and software if they
switch schools midyear.
Hybrid Option Favored
Like Steven Hodas, a practitioner-in-residence at the Center on Reinventing
Public Education, Mr. Ross favors "hybrid" procurement approaches
in which district central offices play important, but limited,
roles in selecting blended-learning software.
The District of Columbia
system has increasingly
moved in that direction.
The elementary schools
that fully implemented st
Math in 2012-13 saw significant
gains: The proportion of
students scoring "proficient"
or "advanced" on standardized
tests rose 19 percentage
points, compared with
5-percentage point growth
for non-st Math schools.
Those results-and some
creative professional development
(and marketing) by the district-have helped encourage other
schools already using st Math to go all in on the program, and helped
persuade schools that did not opt to use the software to reconsider.
In February of this year, for example, Mr. Rice arranged for J.C.
Nalle Elementary, one of the schools that embraced the new software
most fully, to host an st Math open house for teachers and leaders
from other schools.
Kim S. Burke, Nalle's eighth-year principal, said she appreciated
the balance of autonomy and guidance that the district had given her
in implementing the new blended-learning model.
"Principals don't always have all the latest cutting-edge information,"
Ms. Burke said. "It's really helpful when you have a technology office
trying to stay on top of those things and saying, 'You might want to
consider this'-so long as you're not forced" to adopt software that isn't
a fit for your school. n
The district has
helped schools adopt
ST Math, without
requiring them to do it
District Allows Schools to Take Lead on Buying
By Benjamin Herold
he 24,000-student Academy School District 20
in Colorado Springs, Colo., has long prioritized
site-based autonomy for principals.
So when Diane Quarles-Naghi, a local principal,
decided that st Math was the best blendedlearning
math software for her school, Pioneer Elementary,
it was up to her to figure out how to make
the purchase happen.
"I loved the program," said Ms. Quarles-Naghi,
now in her 16th year as a school leader. "But I could
not have paid for it out of my budget from the district.
It's pretty costly."
The software, formally known as Spatial-Temporal
Math and created by the mind Research Institute, focuses
on visual, game-based mathematics instruction.
st Math is perhaps best known for its central character:
JiJi, an animated penguin that students must
navigate through obstacles by solving math problems.
Schools are typically expected to let students use the
software for 90 minutes per week, often in some kind
of "rotational" blended-learning model in which children
spend regular time in computer labs or on personal
they don't have the bandwidth or enough computers
or projectors for teachers to use the software correctly."
Academy School District 20 has safeguards against
The mind Research Institute typically charges
schools a large upfront fee to get started with the program,
then a smaller recurring annual fee to continue.
In the case of Pioneer Elementary, that meant
Ms. Quarles-Naghi had to come up with $11,000 to
bring the software to her entire school.
That became possible when Pioneer was designated a
whole-school Title I building prior to this academic year.
Common Reasons for Failure
Even procurement experts who believe in schoolbased
decisionmaking acknowledge that it can be
difficult for school leaders to meaningfully evaluate
whether a software program is as effective as
its vendor claims. Decisions made on first impressions
and word-of-mouth referrals can easily end in
And when school-based software adoptions fail, specific
factors are typically to blame, said James P. Lund,
the vice president of education success for the mind
Research Institute, who oversees training and support
for schools and districts implementing st Math.
"It's usually because whoever was initially involved
in the purchase decision didn't fully understand their
school's technical capabilities," Mr. Lund said. "Either
such potential problems.
The district's information-technology staff, for example,
will evaluate any proposed software purchase
to make sure that the school's network can support it,
that the program is compatible with the district's operating
system, and that other options were considered.
It's not a "free for all," said J. Thomas Gregory, the
district's chief financial officer.
Neither is it a particularly efficient system, he
The district sometimes loses out on volume-based
purchasing discounts, for example, and it can be challenging
for it staff to manage and support the panoply
of hardware and software that different schools use.
But site-based software procurement allows schools
to be more responsive to student needs and helps
principals to better accommodate the desires of parents
and skills of their staff, Mr. Gregory said.
For Principal Quarles-Naghi, that autonomy is
worth its weight in gold.
"Sixteen years ago, when I was a brand-new principal
just trying to get the lunch schedule right, I would
have embraced [the choices] of experts up at the district,"
"But [Academy School District 20] is different from
other places I've worked in. They trust me to do my job." n
Colorado Springs, Colo.
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report
District Establishes Wi-Fi In Local Community
K-12 System Loans Hotspots For Connectivity
Businesses Sign Up To Give Students Online Access After School Hours
On the Road: Wi-Fi Access on Wheels
Districts Weigh Control Over Software Buying
Centralized Purchasing Brings Rewards for D.C.
District Allows Schools To Lead on Buying
Research Uneven, Tough To Interpret
Behind a Looking Glass: Teachers Help Peers Master Technology
A Charter School Designed For Ed Tech
Librarians Adopt New Role: Guiding Blended Learning, District Tech Efforts
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S2
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - Contents
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - K-12 System Loans Hotspots For Connectivity
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - Businesses Sign Up To Give Students Online Access After School Hours
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - On the Road: Wi-Fi Access on Wheels
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S7
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - Districts Weigh Control Over Software Buying
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S9
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - District Allows Schools To Lead on Buying
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S11
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - Research Uneven, Tough To Interpret
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S13
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S14
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S15
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - Behind a Looking Glass: Teachers Help Peers Master Technology
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S17
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S18
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S19
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - A Charter School Designed For Ed Tech
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S21
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S22
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S23
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - Librarians Adopt New Role: Guiding Blended Learning, District Tech Efforts
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S25
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S26
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S27
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S28