Eric Westendorf writes: Much of the current buzz around EdTech in K-12 focuses on personalization, adaptation, gamification and self-directed learning. I think these ideas have great potential, but miss EdTech's greatest benefit. Given the siloed world in which teachers have historically worked, I believe EdTech's greatest contribution will come from connecting teachers, enabling them to build from best practices, collaborate with colleagues, and share with the world. In so doing, technology will bolster the most powerful lever we have for school improvement -- the talent of our teachers.

Guest blogger Eric Westendorf writes: As schools and districts across the country implement the Common Core State Standards, the need to provide high quality professional development for teachers has never been greater. Yet, despite the more than $3 billion invested annually in teacher PD, few in our industry would say the money is well spent. If you've ever observed a typical PD session, it's obvious why: undifferentiated "sit and listen" sessions abound, requiring little engagement from teachers and generating few personal insights as a result. To improve teacher PD, we need to shift to a talent development model

Whew! It's been a hectic couple months in Washington. Shutdowns, massive web glitches, WWII veterans storming memorials. I need a bit of a breather. More to the point, I've got a new book out and am due to spend a good chunk of the month running around and talking to folks about Breakthrough Leadership in the Digital Age. The upshot: I'm going to take a few weeks respite from blogging. We'll have three weeks of guest blogs and then return to regularly scheduled programming during Thanksgiving week.

We're bombarded these days with enthusiastic accounts of "digital learning." The stuff is cool, but the excitement is a little disconcerting given that educational technology always seems be ripe with promise, yet has rarely delivered. Now, some view this checkered history and conclude that technology just can't help that much when it comes to schooling--that Horace Mann's schoolhouse was schooling as God intended. A lot more take a look at schooling, and then blithely figure they've finally cracked the code. I think both schools of thought are wrong. The truth is that today's education technology does hold immense promise, but ...

There are a lot of ed tech providers out there. Some don't impress, but others offer products and services that really do offer new capabilities and opportunities for students, teachers, and parents. Bror and I make note of many of these in the course of Breakthrough Leadership -- and one of those is ClassDojo, which is helping teachers and parents use tech to tackle soft skills. Last week, I had the chance to chat again with co-founder Sam Chaudhary about what's been going on with Class Dojo (you can find a Straight Up interview with him from last fall here).

The furor over New York commissioner John King's decision to cancel (and then reinstate) a series of Common Core town halls boiled up again Wednesday, when New York governor Andrew Cuomo weighed in. ... Now, I think King is a terrific commissioner, has offered New York smart leadership at a challenging time, and that it's nuts to talk of him stepping down. But I also think it's important to recognize that King did seriously misstep here, and in a fashion that illuminates some of the blind spots that have plagued Common Core boosters.

The promise that technology will remake schools has been uttered plenty of times by governors, journalists, and CEOs. At the moment, federal policymakers' attention is focused on E-Rate. E-Rate (an informal name for the Universal Service Fund's Schools and Libraries Program) is a discount on telecommunications services for schools and libraries. Enthusiasm for E-Rate reform is fine, so long as policymakers recognize that improving the program is only a modest step along the road to tapping the power of education technology.

One of the remarkable things about contemporary education reform may be its lack of interest in responsible parenting. In recent years, an intense focus on closing racial and economic achievement gaps has resulted in policies and practices that can sometimes come at the expense of families that work hard and play by the rules.

Stanford's Tom Dee and UVA's Jim Wyckoff have just published an important study on Washington DC's controversial teacher evaluation system. The study, published as a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, notes that IMPACT appears to aid students both by "avoiding the career-long retention of the lowest-performing teachers and through broad increases in teacher performance." Unfortunately, in the giddy chest-thumping to which would-be reformers have shown themselves all too susceptible, it can be easy to overlook some of the factors that help qualify the broader significance of the findings.

The Obama administration has used its Race to the Top program and unprecedented, far-reaching conditions for states seeking "waivers" from the No Child Left Behind Act's most destructive requirements as excuses to micromanage what states are doing on teacher evaluation, school turnarounds, and much else. In a new, particularly troubling twist, the administration has announced that states will henceforth have to ensure that "effective" teachers are distributed in a manner Uncle Sam deems equitable.

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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