Jul 09 2007

Should Each Child Have a Learning Plan?

CoSN board members tackle the big question during a round-table discussion.

By Wayne D'Orio

The best thing about a freewheeling panel discussion with technology experts is you're never sure where you will end up.

This was certainly the case when the Consortium for School Networking held its second Looking Forward event at the National Education Computing Conference in Atlanta in late June. The 90-minute event dedicated itself to one question: Given the needs of today's learners, as well as the current context of technology in most school districts, what is the most important leadership issue that is not receiving attention?

Much of the discussion among the 10 people at the event centered around an idea from Sharnell Jackson, the chief e-learning officer for Chicago Public Schools, that K-12 schools need to create individual learning plans for each student that can be carried beyond senior year and through college.

"We have personalized learning plans for teachers; why not kids?" asked Jackson. "It's important for kids to know where they are."

"Good teachers do that already," agreed Sheryl Abshire, the administrative coordinator of technology for the Calcasieu Parish School System in Louisiana. "It goes under many different headings, but I think it's good teaching."

Other panelists worried that these plans would carry the legalities that individual education plans carry for children with handicaps.

Karen Greenwood Henke of Nimble Press said any such plan should include flexibility for teachers. "You don't want teachers who are doing [this] forever suddenly to have to do it another way that doesn't work for them," she said.

Other topics discussed included allowing more freedom for teachers to innovate and use today's technology to its fullest. Several panel members gave examples of good school projects that teachers and students would like to complete but can't because they feel the pressure of succeeding in the narrow definitions of No Child Left Behind.

Abshire said parents "don't know the whole story" about what happens in schools. "They underestimate what their kids are doing with cell phones and the Internet. They aren't bad things; the parents just don't know."

"We need a PR campaign for parents," said Kathy Hurley, Pearson's senior vice president of Strategic Partnerships. "They think their kids have to learn like they did. Parents need to know their kids really need to use a computer, even if they're going to be a farmer."

The CoSN conversations are part of the nonprofit organization's 15th anniversary. The first conversation with members of CoSN's board took place in March at the group's annual conference.