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Focus on People, Not Technology for Common-Core Implementation?

San Antonio

The vast majority of K-12 information-technology professionals in school districts today report that preparing for common core is one of their top three priorities, according to a new study by CDW-G released today at the ISTE conference.

Out of a survey of 300 K-12 IT professionals, 83 percent ranked meeting common-core technology standards as one of their top three priorities. Twenty-nine percent ranked it as their number-one priority, the survey found.

Those findings were the starting point for a discussion for a group of educators serving on a panel at the conference on Monday. The panelists were Joanna Antonio, a technology coordinator at the 14,500-student Passaic Public Schools in New Jersey, Doug Renfro, an instructional designer at the 83,000-student Metro Nashville Public Schools, as well as Geoff Fletcher, the deputy executive director of SETDA, the State Educational Technology Directors Association, at a well-attended session addressing how schools are ramping up their technology in preparation for common core.

In the Passaic district, IT staff are rolling out Google Chromebooks to high schoolers and middle schoolers to create a 1-to-1 environment in preparation for common core, said Antonio. But rolling out the technology itself will do little to change the learning environment for students, Antonio emphasized. Teachers will need to undergo intensive professional development, which she is providing to a group of pilot teachers in hopes that they will share their knowledge with the other teachers in the district.

Doug Renfro, of the Nashville public schools, also emphasized the need to focus on people, rather than technology, when preparing for a smooth transition to common-core assessments. One of the most effective ways to do that, he said, was to have the folks who are delivering common-core professional development model the instructional techniques teachers will be using to deliver common-core instruction.

"Getting our curriculum people to model [common-core instructional techniques] is a huge first step," he said. With modeling in place, "at least you're not going to undergo professional development that's completely foreign to the way we want to teach."

Geoff Fletcher, from the technology directors' association, encouraged educators to examine exactly how funds designated for technology and other purposes can be used. In some states, money that was previously slated for textbooks can now be used to purchase technology or digital instructional materials—a move that SETDA recommends all states make. "If you adopt digital materials, you're going to be much more flexible," he told the audience. "Money is a challenge, but the flexibility is there to begin to take advantage of it in school districts."

That feedback could be helpful to the 76 percent of K-12 IT professionals who listed budget concerns as their greatest worry in the CDW-G survey. That worry was followed by the 69 percent of respondents who said that being having understaffed IT support was their biggest concern.

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