Jan 06 2011

Proof Positive


In Walden, perhaps his best-known work, American author and philosopher Henry David Thoreau observed: “It is never too late to give up our prejudices. No way of thinking or doing, however ancient, can be trusted without proof.”

Thoreau wasn't particularly enamored with the technological progress that captivated his 19th century peers, but his point about rethinking long-held biases certainly is relevant to 21st century discussions about modern technologies and their effect on education.

Those who believe in technology's power to transform education likely weren't surprised by the results of two major studies released last year, which concluded that technology improves learning in K–12 classrooms in tangible ways. Those who remain unconvinced should consider the following evidence.

The Color of Success

In a study of 997 schools and their technology use during the 2009–2010 school year, Project RED (Revolutionizing Education) details the link between certain implementation factors and 11 education success measures. The report summarizing the effort says these factors have the greatest effect on educational improvement: technology integration in every intervention class; skillful principal leadership in managing change and giving teachers time for professional development; daily online collaboration by students; and technology integration in the core curriculum.

Notably, 63 percent of Project RED participant schools defined as having “proper” one-to-one programs (with the aforementioned factors) reported an improvement in graduation rates, 92 percent had fewer disciplinary actions, 90 percent reported an increase in high-stakes test scores and 89 percent had decreased dropout rates. Among all other schools surveyed, those percentages were 51 percent, 50 percent, 69 percent and 45 percent, respectively. To learn more, visit projectred.org.

Active Learning

The conclusion that technology better prepares students for success was echoed in a second-year evaluation study of the impact of Promethean ActivClassroom on student achievement and academic improvement.

Dr. Robert J. Marzano, co-founder/CEO of Marzano Research Laboratory, and colleague Mark W. Haystead, senior data analyst and director of technology, examined the performance of students who were taught the same lesson by teachers who either did or didn't use ActivClassroom to augment their current instructional practices.

In studying more than 4,900 students and 123 teachers, the researchers found that student achievement does grow with the use of technology; professional development is essential; and a completely integrated solution works best to increase student performance. To read the complete findings, go to marzanoresearch.com/documents/Continuation_Study_2010.pdf.

Proof of Concept

Many of the schools featured in this issue are enjoying similar positive learning outcomes. The Digital Advantage component of Sunnyside Unified School District's Project Graduation initiative awards free netbooks to students who meet rigorous performance and attendance requirements established by the Tucson, Ariz., district (see “Crossing the Threshold”). Since the initiative's inception in 2007, the number of graduating students has risen from 598 in 2008 to 821 in 2010, and the district has handed out 1,950 netbooks. “Technology is a great equalizer,” says Superintendent Manuel L. Isquierdo. “It helps our kids learn better and our teachers teach better.”

And at Calhoun Elementary in Tennessee, math students who typically would do 20 practice problems and quit are now motivated to do 100 (see “Doing the Math”). “The more they're engaged, the more they do,” teacher David McDonald says. “That's what technology gives us.”

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