Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Alabama Gets on Board: Dedication to Tech-Based Learning at the State Level Is Credited with Turning around Student Performance at Two School Districts

Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Alabama Gets on Board: Dedication to Tech-Based Learning at the State Level Is Credited with Turning around Student Performance at Two School Districts

Article excerpt

AS THE 20TH CENTURY drew to a close, Roanoke City Schools ranked last in Alabama in per-pupil expenditures and its high school dropouts were increasing. The small, rural school system knew a change of course was in order.

"The world around us was changing and we could not wait to make a difference for our students," explains David Crouse, director of federal programs for the district. "The train had left the station and would not be returning."

To get on board required a total commitment to transforming the district's educational practice through a technology-infused 21st century learning program, moving away from simply having, in Crouse's words, "computers down the hall and in the back of the room."

After much planning and changes in leadership positions, the upshot of that commitment was the Tools for Life initiative. The introduction, support, and expansion of the program were funded by multiple sources. The district used its own money along with funding from Title I and No Child Left Behind's Title II-D (Enhancing Education Through Technology) to buy wireless networks, laptops, and projectors. Title II-D money also combined with funds from NCLB's Title II-A (Teacher and Principal Training and Recruiting Fund) to support professional development, and district funds provided other equipment and additional teacher support.

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"We looked at each funding stream to identify how it could support the program," says Crouse. "Once the basic technology tools and wireless networks were in place, the schools were able to maximize access to a variety of other resources to help increase student achievement and graduation rates."

One of those resources that Roanoke schools put to use was Alabama Connecting Classrooms, Educators, and Students Statewide (ACCESS), a distance learning initiative that provides credit recovery courses. The courses are made available over the summer to students at the district's lone high school, Handley High. (During the school year, Roanoke uses Plato Learning's credit recovery solution.)

"The credit recovery programs have been critical to reducing the dropout rate," Crouse says. "Our data indicated that students who failed only one course during high school had a significantly higher potential to drop out. All seniors who began the 2009-2010 school year will graduate together. This wouldn't have been possible without the initial technology infrastructure and access to online courses."

Other key resources include a state-funded teacher portal, the Alabama Learning Exchange (ALEX), to increase student engagement and individualize instruction through digital content and materials. ALEX offers lesson plans, web links, podcasts, professional development tools, and listservs.

The changes seen in the district in the four years since Tools for Life was launched are remarkable. Roanoke's three schools all made adequate yearly progress (AYP) each of the last three years. Knight Enloe Elementary School received a $15,000 cash award from the state for closing the achievement gap between black and white students in math and reading in the 2008-2009 school year. Meanwhile, Handley High School eliminated that same gap in math, which had been 15 points in 2006-2007. In 2008-2009 the two subgroups were dead even. The school also upped its graduation rate from 78 percent in 2006-2007 to 90 percent in 2008-2009.

How did Roanoke make all of this happen in four short years? "Persistence!" says Crouse. "From our board of education and administrators, to the technologists, to the Title I coordinator, to the teachers, parents, and students--[we] are all committed to providing 21st century learning environments and increasing graduation rates."

Roanoke is not alone among Alabama districts in its mission. Another example is the Pell City School District, which resolved to integrate technology in 2007.

"We knew we had to make changes in our schools' structure," says Stacey Weaver, Pell City's technology director. …

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