Teachers are a school’s most critical resource. Research continues to show that effective teaching is the most important school-related factor in student achievement, yet access to effective teaching remains widely uneven and inequitably distributed. The teaching profession faces multiple challenges while serving at the front line of improving outcomes for students. First, the nation’s teaching force is increasingly less experienced; today’s typical teacher has just one to two years of experience, compared to fifteen years in 1987.
15 Compounding the lessening content and pedagogical experience in the classroom, school districts also face shortages of teachers in critical areas like physics and chemistry, meaning that many students do not have access to those courses taught by an experienced, certified teacher. In 2007–08, nearly 60 percent of public school classes in high school physical science were taught by teacher who did not major in that subject area. 16 The challenge of finding certified teachers is particularly difficult in rural areas. The state of Georgia, for example, has 440 high schools but only 88 physics teachers.
17 Even Minnesota, which is considered a high-achieving state, has only 182 certified physics teachers for its 971 high schools. 18 And it is not surprising that schools with lower socioeconomic status have a harder time filling vacancies in key areas such as science. 19 Faced with increased administrative, bureaucratic, academic, and social responsibilities with fewer years of experience, teachers find they are not always able to personalize instruction as much as they would like. Fewer than half (46 percent) of math teachers say they can differentiate instruction a great deal.
Seventy percent of teachers who say their students are likely to go to college report that they can offer significantly differentiated instruction, compared to only 50 percent of teachers who are in schools with less of a college-going culture. Even more worrisome, 45 percent of students who say they have considered dropping out of school Simply slapping a netbook on give their teachers a D or an F in differentiating top of a textbook, however, will instruction to meet students’ individual needs. not necessarily lead to significant Recent studies of high-performing urban schools outcomes.
and evaluations of successful high school reform models have identified “personalization” and “instructional improvement” as the twin pillars of high school reform. Creating a personalized high school experience requires high expectations for all students, reliable information about school performance and students’ needs and interests, the capacity to individualize instruction and support, and multiple pathways to a high school diploma. 20 Research continues to indicate that student engagement is critical to preventing dropouts. 21 Growing Opportunities to Improve Learning for All Students
Multiple forces are converging to create a significant opportunity with the power to affect education greatly within the next two to three years. First, the technology available for instruction is improving continuously. Second, the cost of the technology continues to decrease. This paper would become dated instantly if it listed exact items and prices, but the price of computer memory is a useful reference. In 1980, a gigabyte of information cost around $200,000. In 2011, a terabyte—more than a thousand gigabytes, and about 2,000 hours of high-quality audio data—cost around $100.
22 Additionally, more and more students today are what could be called “digital natives,” already accustomed to the rapid feedback, collaborative nature, and ease of use of many digital technolgies. 23 Page 7 Alliance for Excellent Education Meanwhile, forty-six states and the District of Columbia have adopted the common core state standards, affecting 90 percent of the nation’s students. The commitment to ensuring that students graduate from high school college and career ready will require unprecedented work to implement new content, instructional strategies, teacher preparation, and assessments.
The benefit is that curriculum developers, who have had to address fifty different sets of standards in the past, can work from one clear set of standards. Sustained professional learning for teachers will also be able to utilize this uniform set of expectations. Just as significantly, almost all states are now working through two assessment consortia to develop online assessments for the common core state standards to be put in place by 2014. The technology exists to make this implementation possible and to lead a significant transformation of the nation’s education system.
The Gap Simply slapping a netbook on top of a textbook, however, will not necessarily lead to significant outcomes. Critical for learning success with digital learning is developing a comprehensive strategy that has a foundation of involvement and sustained career training for teachers—not occasional professional development—which concentrates not just on the technology, but also on the pedagogical skills needed to use the technology in teaching and learning.
As Greg Whitby, an executive director of schools in Australia who is implementing a widespread digital learning program across a 40,000-student district in Sydney, stressed, “It’s first about the pedagogy, then comes the technology. ”24 As this paper will demonstrate, effective digital media combined with powerful teaching, rich content, and engaged students has the potential to take learning in the United States to a much higher level and provide all students with experiences that allow them to graduate prepared for college and a career. But education is still slow to adopt these technologies.
While the National Center for Education Statistics reports that 97 percent of all teachers had access to a computer in their classroom in 2009, only 72 percent of all teachers, and 64 percent of secondary school teachers, said they used computers for instruction. 25 The use of technology—defined as information technology such as computers, devices that can be attached to computers (e. g. , LCD projector, interactive whiteboard, digital camera), networks (e. g. , internet, local networks), and computer software—for higher-order skill development was much lower.