SPS to Distribute 20,000 Laptops in First 11 Days of School

By: Claudette Riley
Original Post from Springfield News-Leader

Even rattling off the number gives Nichole Lemmon pause.

"We have never handed out 20,000 devices in 11 days, and we are doing 8,300 on the first day," she said. Lemmon, director of blended learning for Springfield Public Schools, said the distribution of computers, the largest of its kind in the history of the district, also signals the final step in a three-year plan to provide a Google Chromebook for every student in grades 3-12.

"We are finally in a place where all classrooms have the same technology," she said. "We are finally equal. I look at it as we are getting started." Superintendent John Jungmann, with the backing of the school board, launched a three-year technology effort in 2015 called Ignite. He said the effort aimed to put "modern tools and resources" in the hands of teachers and students. "The Ignite program has, as a foundational goal, the leveling of the playing field for all of our learners," he said.

In addition to the laptops, classroom teachers in kindergarten through second grade will have access to sets of iPads. A total of 3,000 will be available. The approved budget for the 2017-18 year includes lease payments for the technology rolled out during Ignite, including $437,424 for the first year, $658,919 for last year and $771,540 for this year.

The technology was implemented in a staggered way, and the leases must be reviewed every three years. At that point, the district will decide if it wants to renew and extend the lease or go in a different direction.

"We believe right now we do have the right tools in the classroom," he said. "We get good feedback from our students and teachers in the classroom. One area where we get feedback that we need more is K-2." He said expanding access will be considered this year.

Lemmon said the district is trying one-to-one technology, in the form of the touchscreen Google Chromebooks, for students in kindergarten through second grade at Fremont and Sherwood elementary schools. But, in early grades at other schools, classrooms have to check out sets of iPads.

"Our K-2 teachers, in our survey last year, said they wanted to be one-to-one too," she said.

The district has also beefed up its IT help, hired a team of blended learning specialists and provides mobile hot spots for students without internet access at home.

Jungmann said the district is in the process of revising its curriculum to take advantage of online tools and providing students with access to more adaptive software. "The goal is not modern tools, it's better learning," he said. "And better learning happens when students get individual feedback in a much more efficient manner about where you are."

Members of the school board have repeatedly asked how the district will measure the impact of the new technology and learning strategies. Jungmann said the district uses BrightBytes, which analyzes students' access, skills and development. Other, more traditional measures, are also used.

"That learning is measured by a number of different things — grades, GPA, as well as standardized test scores, which we want to move and we always say are a significant part of our metrics, but they are insufficient in representing the entire child," he said. The older devices, which were purchased before the Ignite initiative, have been moved around to provide access where needed.

"We have quit buying them so as they roll out, they've been going to surplus," he said. "We've been using them to Band-Aid the other spots and we've pushed them into K-2 environments, where they want more."

Experts: 5 Elements for a Winning, Data-Informed District

By: Laura Ascione, Managing Editor, Content Services at eSchoolNews
Original Post from eSchool Media

Data, data, data. Most school leaders know how important data is to every part of a district’s operations, from bus routes to PD and student achievement. But sometimes, capturing and interpreting that data proves challenging.

Still, when data is collected and used to drive transformational change in a district, the results are nothing short of eye-opening.

During an ISTE 2017 session from eSchool Media and BrightBytes, a panel of ed-tech experts discussed how the ability to collect, access and easily interpret data has allowed them to personalize student learning and track achievement.

Panelists included Chuck Holland, director of technology integration in South Carolina’s Richland School District Two; Donna Teuber, innovation program designer in Richland School District Two; Sheryl Abshire, chief technology officer of the Calcasieu Parish School District in Louisiana; and Jeff McCoy, associate superintendent of South Carolina’s Greenville County Schools. Here are some of the things attendees learned:

1. Technology is a must-have part of learning

“We’ve turned the corner so technology isn’t the cool thing anymore–it’s the necessary thing,” said Sheryl Abshire, chief technology officer in Louisiana’s Calasieu Parish Schools. “Twenty years ago, if we didn’t have email or if the internet went down, nobody cared but [technology staff]. Now, if it bleeps for one second, our phones start blowing up, and it’s because the internet is mission-critical. This innovative practice of using technology as an anchoring part of the total learning environment has been transformational. It’s not a revolution–it’s an evolution. The innovative piece is that you change teaching and learning with technology–the innovation is technology not for technology’s sake, but for the sake of advancing learning.”

2. Data use can make or break an initiative

“The data we’ve been able to harness has been an eye-opening piece for us,” Abshire said. “We’ve been able to dive deep into every single school, student and administrator and display information graphically.”

Data continues to drive the districts’ approach to both student and teacher learning.

“We’re using data to continually innovate,” Holland said. “When we went one-to-one, we used data from the beginning to evaluate the success of the program during implementation, and we make sure we use multiple pieces of data to drive our decisions. We monitor the data over time as our needs shift.”

“Looking at our platforms, the data we have is so important to moving forward,” Teuber said.

3. Shaking up departmental structure and physical classroom space can result in positive learning changes

Uniting the instructional technology department with the academic side allowed Greenville County Schools to focus on personalized learning and change classroom practices, McCoy said.

“We went from pockets of equity to fostering innovation in our district,” said Teuber. The district launched an incubator and made consistent efforts to support innovative practices and expand those that proved successful, often through crossfunctional innovation teams that work on lingering challenges.

“[Our instructional technology department] works with those innovation teams a lot, and technology has caused us to rethink the way classrooms are working,” Holland said.

Last year, the Richland district reevaluated its learning spaces after finding that students’ physical environments did not support innovative instructional practices in classrooms.

“Looking at the data in classrooms, [our teams] are recognizing that making one change leads to something different, and that boosts student engagement,” Holland said. “It’s really exciting to see grassroots efforts by the teachers to change student learning.”

4. PD is a big piece of the data puzzle

McCoy’s district relaunched its technology initiative after finding that, despite new technology tools, little had changed in its classrooms because teachers didn’t know how to change their instructional practices.

“This year, most of our teachers have crossed over,” McCoy said. “We invested almost as much in PD as we invested in devices, and I think that’s a critical move. You also have to have the digital content there for teachers.”

Creating personalized, data-driven learning environments for students means also focusing on personalizing PD for teachers.

The Calcasieu Parish’s technology facilitators use data to drive professional learning changes in every school.

“That data, over two years, has driven PD in every school so that when we talk about transformational change, we’re not talking about it, we’re doing it,” Abshire said. “If you delve down into the data and look at the key components, you can see where your district’s needs are, and for us, that’s driven our entire district PD program. We’ve made substantive changes that have improved practice and resulted in improved test scores, engaged learning, teacher confidence, and more teacher risk-taking.”

Because PD is informed by data, classrooms focus on students instead of teachers.

“Shifting from a teacher-centered classroom to a student-centered classroom was a logical progression, because technology is a huge enabler of that,” Abshire said. “It frees the classroom up to become a constructivist learning environment, which leads right into personalized and blended learning. We’ve had to personalize PD for teachers, so now we do pre-work to find out what teachers know and what they’re already able to do. We want personalized learning for our students, but we want personalized learning for teachers, too. The model we use for PD, we hope, will transfer over to teachers’ classroom instruction. When you give teachers the time to learn the way they want to, they transfer that over to their students.”

5. Identifying communication disconnects is crucial

“We launched a student-centered learning leadership series for our schools, and one of the issues we saw with getting schools ready for change is that sometimes our principals moved faster than staff wanted to move, or could move,” McCoy said. “Principals didn’t have realistic expectations of their teachers.”

The district equipped principals with strategies to put student-centered learning into place, while at the same time giving them the skills needed to create supportive environments for teachers as they developed skills necessary to foster the new learning environment.

District leaders realized principals needed additional skills to encourage teachers to create innovative classrooms, and some of those skills included the ability to give teachers safe space to take risks.

“You can’t create a culture of innovation by saying ‘No’ all the time,” McCoy said.

Authentica Solutions, a BrightBytes Company, Recognized by SIIA as Best Enterprise Application Integration Solution

Authentica Solutions, a BrightBytes Company, Recognized by SIIA as Best Enterprise Application Integration Solution

DataSense™ Cloud Solutions Earns Prestigious Industry Recognition

For Immediate Release: SAN FRANCISCO, CA (August 1, 2017) - Last week DataSense, powered by  Authentica Solutions, a BrightBytes company, was named the best Enterprise Application Integration Solution of 2017 as part of the annual SIIA CODiE Awards. CODiE Award recipients are the companies producing the most innovative Business and Education technology products across the country and around the world.

Russell Long, GM for DataSense, said, “We are honored to win the 2017 SIIA CODiE Award for Best Enterprise Application Integration Solution. By bridging the gaps between multiple sources of dispersed data, we can help maximize learning through innovative cloud technologies, processes, and expertise. Now that Authentica has joined the BrightBytes family, we can provide the best in class, end-to-end data management solution to the edtech community, removing all obstacles to unifying and utilizing data to drive the decision-making process.”

Authentica Solutions has been widely recognized for excellence, including a finalist for the 2017 Microsoft Public Sector Education Partner of the Year Award, a 2016 CODiE award finalist, and winner of the EdTech Digest 2017 Cool Tool Awards For Best District Data Solution. The awarded product, DataSense, a leading IPaaS (integration platform as a service) solution allows education organizations and edtech providers to easily connect and integrate data. "SIIA’s 2017 Education Technology CODiE Award winners were an amazing group this year, and demonstrated how these technologies are making an impact for students, faculty and administration.” Said Bridget Foster, senior vice president and managing director of the Education Technology Industry Network (ETIN) of SIIA. “Each honoree deserves accolades and we are pleased to add our congratulations to all of this year’s CODiE Award winners."

The winner announcement was made by the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA), the principal trade association for the software and digital content industries, during the annual Education Impact Symposium in San Francisco. 35 awards were given for products and services deployed specifically for education and learning professionals.

An SIIA CODiE Award win is a prestigious honor as each award winner was reviewed by educators and administrators, whose evaluations determined the finalists. SIIA members then reviewed the finalists and their votes were combined with the scores from the industry experts to select this year’s CODiE Awards winners.

More information about the Awards is available at http://www.siia.net/codie

Details about the winning products can be found at http://www.siia.net/codie/2017-Winners

About the CODiE Awards: The SIIA CODiE Awards is the only peer-reviewed program to showcase business and education technology’s finest products and services. Since 1986, thousands of products, services and solutions have been recognized for achieving excellence. For more information, visit siia.net/CODiE.

About Authentica: Authentica Solutions supports K-12 organizations no matter where they are on the data exchange spectrum. Their unique approach toward implementing, handling, and storing data from disparate systems provides school districts the freedom to select the software solutions that work best for them. With direct experience integrating their products with over 30 of the leading enterprise solutions in the edtech space, no other team has the hands-on experience to help all customers meet their data management requirements.


R-7 School District Gets Acknowledged for Technology
The Kansas City Star

Original post The Kansas City Star

The Lee’s Summit School District was among seven educational organizations featured in The Keyword, Google’s a national blog that focuses in part on Chromebooks and the company’s tools for education.

The June 2017 blog, written in conjunction with the International Society for Technology in Education conference, featured Lee’s Summit’s move to one-to-one student Chromebooks.

The organizations are included among a number of “Impact Portraits,” developed during a 16-month investigation by the Evergreen Education Group, which discussed educational strategies and tools with more than 100 school leaders from six countries to develop the case studies.

The Evergreen group describes its mission as helping “state and federal governments, school districts, companies and foundations gain insight into the ever-evolving digital learning landscape so they can successfully plan and implement best practices related to educational technology.”

Each study included key factors that helped schools and students flourish when adopting technology for the classroom — including planning, professional learning, patience and support.

In August 2015, the district gave a Chromebook to each of its 17,500 students from kindergarten through senior high school. Known as Connect2Learn, the program has increased learning opportunities and leveled the playing field for students from a variety of family incomes.

The students use the Chromebooks at school, at home or wherever a WiFi hotspot is available. District staff members have been working with internet providers to help families obtain low-cost internet service. The district also maintains a website mapping businesses that support students by offering free internet hotspots.

By providing each student a Chromebook, the district can offers them more personalized and novel learning experiences. Lee’s Summit used BrightBytes CASE exams to measure results from the one-to-one program. These exams showed increased in all four measures of the test after Connect2Learn’s first year. The test measures classroom, access, skills and environment.

BrightBytes Named One of 10 Most Innovative Learning and Development Solution Providers

Original post from Insights Success Magazine

BrightBytes: Using Data to Improve the Way the World Learns

Schools have no shortage of data. The hard part is deriving relevant and meaningful information from extremely large data sets gathered from various sources. With a mission to improve the way the world learns through the use of data, BrightBytes, a learning analytics company, gathers research from the best experts in the world and creates evidence-based frameworks that analyze data from schools.  Across BrightBytes’ decision support platform, Clarity, educators can access the tools to better understand data and improve student learning outcomes.

In an industry overwhelmed by DRIP syndrome (data rich, information poor), BrightBytes helps educators across schools, districts, and at the state level, by providing personalized and research-driven insights, resources, and support material at each data point. Educators not only see the data in an educative and engaging format, but they also know what actions to take to address any gaps or challenges within their personalized results. With seven core modules, and personalization capabilities, the Clarity platform offers research-based and actionable solutions for every area that impacts student learning.

Clarity Humanizes Big Data and Personalizes Solutions

Big data has made great contributions to areas like marketing and science over the past few years, but its recent arrival in the education industry has been both exciting and challenging. Big data opens a universe of unexplored information to educators, but without the right lens to understand data, the right tools to execute findings, and the right method to communicate results, the access to abundant data may hinder progress. Increasingly, educators are turning to data to make informed decisions, but various challenges make those efforts unachievable. Many organizations suffer from DRIP (data rich, information poor) conditions, and educators struggle to see solutions behind the numbers. The BrightBytes Clarity platform takes the abundance of data, and humanizes the numbers to provide insight to action. Clarity incorporates the essential elements of a successful data analysis platform that allow educational leaders to realize the infinite power of actionable data to drive learning outcomes and better leverage data to inform critical decisions.

Many companies offer dashboards of educational data, but those products fail to transform that information into decisions. The Clarity platform provides educators with research frameworks that select only the data linked to improved student outcomes. It then maps an education organization’s data to these frameworks, identifies strengths and gaps, and offers insights into how to improve, using specific examples from real schools. This combination of data analysis, research, and action plans set the platform apart from every other offering.

 Proven Expertise

Key to the company’s success is its dedicated team of educators, researchers, statisticians, and designers. The BrightBytes team has decades of experience in the K-12 space and routinely partners with education researchers and experts including McREL International, Mazin™ Education, and iKeepSafe.™ Due to the depth of knowledge around education, individuals across BrightBytes are very familiar with the common challenges that many educators face. However, the team also recognizes that no two organizations 

have identical needs. In addition to the seven core modules on the Clarity platform (that address common areas like graduation rates, financial transparency, the impact of technology on learning, leadership, and digital privacy), BrightBytes has the unique capacity to personalize research-based data solutions to meet specific needs.

The critical components, such as research-based frameworks, engaging data visualizations, collaborative workflow management, data democratization, role-specific views, and data-driven connections are already embedded into all of the core modules. However, these elements are also personalizable to assemble for specific solutions. Clarity’s flexible modular system enables BrightBytes’ team to personalize solutions tailored to address individual organization’s diverse needs. By focusing on the key elements of a successful data analytics platform, BrightBytes can assemble education solutions quickly for each organization.

 A Team Built for Success and Guided by Visionaries

The team behind the Clarity platform is comprised of experts who combine qualitative research and quantitative methods with a proprietary framework specifically designed to link educational factors to learning outcomes. The team is led by Traci Burgess and Hisham Anwar. Traci Burgess, the CEO of BrightBytes, has spent her career entirely in education. Her early love for mathematics led her to pursue a career as a math educator. After deciding she wanted to help students on a larger scale, she made the move to the edtech industry, holding leadership positions in companies including, Thomson Learning, Blackboard, Catapult Learning, and Think Through Learning. Hisham Anwar is a BrightBytes co-founder and the company’s Chief Technology Officer. Hisham has spent the last 12 years building and managing global technology strategies and new product portfolios. The son of an educator, he has held technology leadership positions at Moody’s, Royal Dutch/NWA, Mamapedia, and most recently Zynga. Hishamm has an MBA from MIT. As the company grows, they plan to continue their process of creating solutions that address issues that arise in the K-12 educational sector. The organization is set to expand product lines and sales teams, across the US and internationally.

Authentica Solutions and SchoolCity Announce Partnership

Atlanta, GA, July 17, 2017– Authentica Solutions™, a data integration and data management platform leader, announced that it has signed a channel partner agreement with SchoolCity.  SchoolCity Inc. is a premier product provider of revolutionary 21st Century curriculum, instruction, assessment, and intervention solutions to school districts. 

SchoolCity will be utilizing Authentica’s DataSense™ Cloud Solutions to manage bi-directional data flow between their Assessment platform and other enterprise applications for their school district customers.  

Russell Long, General Manager of Authentica Solutions, said “SchoolCity is a great company that provides valuable solutions to K12 schools. We are very impressed with their culture, software solutions and EdTech market savvy. Our Education Cloud Solutions build, deploy, manage and monitor enterprise application development, integrations, and identity for school districts and universities. We are pleased to be partnering with SchoolCity to deliver data management solutions to their school districts.”

Authentica’s award winning IPaaS (Integration Platform as a Service) solution, DataSense, provides one central administrative web UI for building, deploying, managing, and monitoring all data integration processes across multiple applications. As the 2017 winner of the EdTech Digest Cool Tool Award for Best District Data Solution, DataSense is a proven solution for educational institutions to easily share all their purposeful data between their software applications.   

The DataSense IPaaS solution is built with flexibility in mind. It utilizes and conforms to many open standards. DataSense integrations have been implemented in hundreds of educational institutions across the country, creating bi-directional flows of data between enterprise applications used in school districts and universities.

Vaseem Anjum, CEO at SchoolCity, commented that “At SchoolCity, we are always looking for ways to provide the best possible solutions for our customers. Authentica Solutions is providing a great service in the K-12 market. All school districts have a need to share data between applications and it is becoming more important for districts to take action on this data.  Authentica Solutions and their DataSense Cloud Solutions, has provided us a way to confidently serve our customers.”   

About SchoolCity: SchoolCity Inc. is a premier provider of revolutionary 21st Century curriculum, instruction, assessment, and intervention solutions to school districts. Based in the heart of California's Silicon Valley for more than 15 years, the SchoolCity educational technology experts work with schools nationwide to measure and increase student achievement. In response to the new rigor and expectations of the College and Career Ready Standards, SchoolCity launched the brand-new SchoolCity SUITE™ which takes all the best of our flagship assessment platform and delivers a fully integrated instructional system that provides curriculum and instructional tools, assesses performance, reports progress and recommends valuable next steps, allowing teachers to enact change where it matters most: the classroom.

About Authentica Solutions: Authentica Solutions is an education data management company providing data driven software solutions with a core focus on:

  • K-12 Data Integration
  • Centralized Data Management
  • Education Data Visualization
  • EdTech Cloud Engineering

Authentica Solutions was established in 2013 after our many years in K-12 to serve school districts, departments of education, and Ed Tech software companies seeking to design, develop and implement highly technical, enterprise software and interoperability solutions. Authentica was recently acquired by BrightBytes, a learning analytics organization that translates complex analysis and educational research into fast actions that drive student learning. The addition of Authentica to the BrightBytes family will provide education leaders and end-to-end solution for data integration through analysis, improve the quality of data collection, and free education institutions to use their data for the intended purpose of student achievement and success.

K-12 Dealmaking: BrightBytes Acquires Authentica; Nelson Takes In Assets of Edusight

By: Alexa J. Henry
Original Post from EDWEEK Market Brief

A handful of companies have announced acquisitions in the K-12 space recently. And the Canadian publisher Nelson continues to make deals at a busy pace, following a series of announcements of partnerships with U.S.-based companies with a new acquisition closer to home.

BrightBytes Acquires Authentica: BrightBytes, San Francisco-based learning analytics organization, has acquired Authentica Solutions, developer of an education data integration platform as a service (IPaaS), according to an announcement.

BrightBytes’ Clarity platform, a decision support platform for K-12 educators, seeks to provide research-based analysis and organizes and deliver data across dashboards and reports. Authentica’s DataSense platform provides a single, unified approach to managing all data integration, transformation, and migration processes between all of an education organizations’ critical applications, according to the statement.

“Bringing these two companies together will, for the first time, give educators an end-to-end solution for data-driven decision making,” said BrightBytes’ CEO Traci Burgess.

The addition of Authentica to the BrightBytes family “will help education leaders cost effectively manage data integration and analysis, improve the quality of data collection, and free education institutions to use their data for the intended purpose of student achievement and success,” BrightBytes argued.

In an interview with Marketplace K-12, Burgess noted that the acquisition was the first for BrightBytes, and said that by combining the two organizations the company has “an opportunity to help support learning in the personalized learning environment for K-12.”

She declined to disclose the financial and structural terms of the deal but said “the two companies will have a full integration plan to work seamlessly together.”

As a result of the acquisition, Authentica CEO Russell Long will become the general manager of the DataSense platform and will report to Burgess; CTO Gene Garcia will become the CTO for DataSense. In addition, BrightBytes will maintain an office in Atlanta as well as their two current offices in Salt Lake City and San Francisco.

Nelson Acquires Technology Assets of Edusight: Canadian educational publisher Nelson has entered into an agreement to acquire the technology assets of digital portfolio company Edusight, according to a statement. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

As its “first purely digital acquisition,” the deal” signals Nelson’s further investment in meeting the evolving needs of educators and students across the country, ensuring unparalleled access to the educational resources they need,” Toronto-based Nelson noted.

The purchase “enables us to help re-conceptualize the learning experience for both teachers and students, reinforcing our 100+ year connection to the Canadian classroom in a fresh and meaningful way,” said Steve Brown, Nelson president and CEO.

Edusight is designed to intuitively align with teacher workflow on both the web and via mobile app to provide visualization of data that leads to a better understanding of student learning, according to Toronto-based company, which has received venture capital funding from Imagine K12, the education vertical within Y Combinator.

The move is one of a spate of deals announced recently by Nelson. In May, the company agreed to acquire the K-12 business holdings of McGraw-Hill Ryerson, the Canadian subsidiary of McGraw-Hill Education. As a result of the acquisition, Nelson will take on all development, production, sales, distribution and marketing of the McGraw-Hill Ryerson K-12 portfolio in Canada, including the publishing and distribution of educational materials in both print and digital formats.

In fact, Nelson has formed a series of partnerships over the past year with U.S.-based K-12 companies to help that sell and distribute materials into the 5 million-student Canadian market. (EdWeek Market Brief members should see our recent story about the Canadian K-12 landscape, which describes Nelson’s dealmaking with U.S. providers.)

Nelson also recently unveiled a partnership with Microsoft “to explore the future of classroom learning for K–12 schools.”

Certica Acquires Unbound Concepts: Wakefield, Mass.-based ed-tech platform Certica Solutions has acquired Unbound Concepts, which provides an application that aims to help educators, librarians, readers and curriculum buyers search, browse and discover books, Certica said in a statement. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The acquisition enables Certica to provide its network of ed-tech partners with the ability to tag and describe content using “artifacts”; and to embed content search capabilities into key applications, the company said.

“The addition of Unbound Concept’s app, dubbed Artifact, complements Certica’s Academic Benchmarks™ collection of over 3.9 million learning standards and taxonomic terms, utilized by nearly 200 education sector providers to enrich, align and power improved search of content. Both capabilities will be available to publishers, booksellers and educational system providers, such as learning management system (LMS) vendors, via the Certica Connect platform,” Certica explained.

“Unbound Concepts has made important connections between book publishers, distributors, buyers and educators, by creating a common language between those stakeholders,” said Mark Rankovic, Certica’s president and CEO. “We’re excited to execute the synergies between Artifact and our existing platform capabilities, to benefit our business partners.”

Abl Raises $7.5 Million: Ed-tech startup Abl has raised $7.5 million in Series A funding, led by Rethink EducationSinovation Ventures, Owl VenturesReach Capital, and First Round Capital also participated in the round.

In an email to EdWeek Market Brief, Abl founder and CEO Adam Pisoni—who previously served as CTO and Co-Founder of Yammer— said the company spent the past year developing its first product with a number of design partner schools. “This helped us get clarity on the problem and the demand,” he said. “What it’s shown us is that the demand for master scheduling solutions is high among all types of schools of all sizes and types.”

Abl raised the funding round to accelerate growth by hiring more engineers and designers to build out more of the product to handle more school use cases – especially elementary and district needs; invest in easier data integration and onboarding – including building out a larger customer success and implementation team; and expand the sales and marketing team to accelerate growth, Pisoni explained.

The company provides a school scheduling platform that aims to make “it easy to design and manage the daily life of a school through a simple, cloud-based system that eliminates the spreadsheets, magnet boards, and calendaring tools most schools use today,” according to the company.

Mystery Science Raises $2 Million: Mystery Science, a provider of lessons designed to inspire kids to love science, has joined accelerator Y Combinator and raised $2 million, the company said a blog posting on Medium.com.

In addition to Y Combinator, investors included Learn CapitalReach Capital, and 500 Startupsaccording to VentureBeat.

The company was started by Doug Peltz and Keith Schacht. Peltz is a former master classroom teacher, science department head and creator of an original science curriculum; Schacht was previously a product manager at Facebook.

Be sure to check back on Marketplace K-12 for updates on mergers, acquisitions, fundraising, and other dealmaking.


BrightBytes Acquires Trusted IPaaS Provider Authentica Solutions

BrightBytes Acquires Trusted IPaaS Provider Authentica Solutions

BrightBytes adds Authentica to brand portfolio, providing educators with end-to-end data management to improve the way the world learns

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — June 29, 2017 — BrightBytes,® a learning analytics organization currently impacting one in five schools in the United States, today announced the acquisition of Authentica Solutions, developer of DataSense, an education data Integration Platform as a Service (IPaaS). Authentica, a 2017 Microsoft Education Partner of the Year Finalist, currently partners with top enterprise solutions in edtech to help educators at every organizational level meet data management requirements. It is this deep experience in data integration within the K-12 space and the shared dedication to use data to drive learning that makes the combination of BrightBytes and Authentica an unstoppable force.

As big data informs more and more learning decisions, this groundbreaking acquisition marks a major milestone for the industry. Bringing the two companies together will provide educators with fast, easy, and secure data integration, research-based analysis, and actionable recommendations. Big data has caused an undeniable shift across every industry, but many educators have struggled to participate in the data revolution due to widespread data disarray or extreme DRIP (data rich, information poor) conditions. Collection methods, variables, and captured information differ greatly within data sets and produce disparate results for limited analysis. Authentica’s IPaaS solution, DataSense, solves many of these integration challenges by providing a single, unified approach to managing all data integration, transformation, and migration processes between all of an education organizations’ critical applications, including SIS to APP, APP to APP, and APP to EDW. The solution quickly streamlines quality data flow and removes laborious data collection, rostering, and scrubbing on the user’s end.

The widespread availability of accurate and usable data has the potential to unlock a universe of information for educators. However, without the most insightful lens to understand data, the right research to provide meaning, and the clearest methods to communicate results, data is simply a scatter of numbers. The BrightBytes Clarity® platform, the world’s leading decision support platform for K-12 educators, provides research-based analysis and organizes and delivers data across engaging, easy-to-understand dashboards and reports. To date, BrightBytes has impacted 9.2 million students by helping schools use data analysis to address common education challenges. Across the platform’s core modules, educators can easily gain access to actionable data to evaluate technology efficacy, improve graduation rates, ensure organization-wide data privacy and security, and develop effective leaders. Clarity connects each organization’s data to relevant research proven to drive outcomes.

“Educators have always had a lot of data, the challenge is integrating data from multiple sources, analyzing that data against research, communicating the results in an engaging and educative way, and understanding what specific levers need to be pulled to drive effective change. Bringing these two companies together will, for the first time, give educators an end-to-end solution for data-driven decision making,” said BrightBytes’ Chief Executive Officer, Traci Burgess.

The addition of Authentica to the BrightBytes family will help education leaders cost effectively manage data integration and analysis, improve the quality of data collection, and free education institutions to use their data for the intended purpose of student achievement and success.

About BrightBytes
BrightBytes is a learning analytics organization that translates complex analysis and educational research into fast actions that drive student learning. Their flagship platform, Clarity, measures modern learning outcomes and provides visualized results that are educative, engaging, and actionable, allowing organizations to make evidence-based decisions that improve instruction and advance student achievement.

About Authentica
Authentica Solutions supports K-12 organizations no matter where they are on the data exchange spectrum. Their unique approach toward implementing, handling, and storing data from disparate systems provides school districts the freedom to select the software solutions that work best for them. With direct experience integrating their products with over 30 of the leading enterprise solutions in the edtech space, no other team has the hands-on experience to help all customers meet their data management requirements.

Follow BrightBytes
Twitter: https://twitter.com/BrightBytes
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/brightbytes

Media Contact for BrightBytes
Kristal Ayres, 239.398.1770, kristal@brightbytes.net

The BrightBytes Intervention Management Module Awarded Best In Show At ISTE
Tech & Learning

For the fourth year, Tech & Learning presented its prestigious awards program that honors great products at ISTE 2017. The products were selected by an anonymous panel of educator judges, who scoured the exhibit hall floor during the conference in San Antonio.
The judges rated their impressions on a sliding scale, evaluating areas such as quality and effectiveness, ease of use and creative use of technology. They then met in person to decide which technologies will have the most impact in the classroom and deserved to be named Best of Show. 

Congratulations to BrightBytes for a Best in Show Award for the Intervention Management module!


Charles Town, WV: Area High Schools Among Top 10 in State

By: Danyel VanReenen
Original post from The Journal

CHARLES TOWN — Jefferson County Schools announced Jefferson High School and Washington High School ranked among the top 10 high schools in the state according to U.S. News and World Report 2017 Best High Schools rankings.

According to a press release, Jefferson High ranked third, and Washington High placed tenth. The schools were ranked based on a college readiness index, the percentage of students taking Advanced Placement tests, the amount of students passing AP tests, and mathematic and English proficiency among students.

U.S. News reviewed 28,496 public high schools across America. However, they eliminated some schools because they were too small to be analyzed, which left 20,487 in the nation.

In West Virginia, there were 114 eligible high schools, and five received silver medals — meaning the school ranked between 501 and 2,609 on the list, and the school’s College Readiness Index value was at or above 20.91

"Jefferson High School reported a graduation rate of 87 percent with 34 percent of the school population taking the AP tests, and 77 percent of those students passing the exams. Jefferson High School was one of five schools in the state awarded a silver medal,” officials said in a press release. “Washington High School reported a 95 percent graduation rate. Twenty-three percent of the school population participated in AP exams, and 70 percent of students earned passing scores.”

Meghan Metzner, media contact for Jefferson County Schools, said socio-economic status can play a role in student opportunity, however Jefferson County Schools design programs to close the achievement gap. She said the Free and Reduced Lunch percentage for Jefferson High is 33.7 percent and Washington High is at 29.2 percent.

Despite the number of students on the free and reduced lunch program, Metzner said strong school programs prevent poverty from defining them or limiting their future.

According to Metzner, both Jefferson and Washington high schools have strong graduation rates and consistent AP programs with an outstanding teaching staff. Jefferson County Schools emphasize high academic standards for their students, and they utilize an early warning system called Bright Bytes, to identify and aid students at risk of early drop out.

“Our parents trust us to educate their children so they send them to school consistently, which allows them to make greater progress. One of the greatest assets in Jefferson County is the high level of parental involvement we enjoy,” Metzner said.

Metzner also said Jefferson County Schools have the highest attendance rate of any school district in West Virginia.

“These rankings are a reflection of a system-wide commitment to excellence,” said Dr. Bondy Shay Gibson, superintendent of Jefferson County Schools. “From pre-school through high school our outstanding staff is committed to student success and these results show the results of that dedication and commitment.”

BrightBytes Digital Privacy, Safety & Security Module Featured as Cool Tool

Original post from EdTech Digest

Technology in education has potential to create powerful learning experiences, but simultaneous to those experiences, educators feel an overwhelming ethical and legal obligation to provide a safe and secure digital environment. BrightBytes, in partnership with iKeepSafe,™ built the Digital Privacy, Safety & Security module to help districts achieve the right balance between technology learning goals and privacy and security responsibilities. The module enables educators to analyze their current digital safety efforts collaboratively, and create comprehensive actionable plans for improvement. District leaders must understand all the interdependent components of creating the right environment. The module emphasizes a formative, collaborative process between stakeholders from across the organization. The core safety team completes the questionnaire together, and the results are measured on a three-level ABC maturity scale (Awareness, Behavior, Continuous improvement) that represents progression toward a safe digital environment. This data informs personalized reports, actionable next steps, and research-based insights to help create a safe digital environment. As solutions and procedures evolve, the questionnaire can be updated with new notes, documents, and responses. This provides the district with a formative, iterative, and complete view of the ever-changing learning environment to promote a common understanding of digital safety.

Susanna Clavello on Helping Students Navigate the Digital World in the Midst of Information Chaos

Guest Blog by: Susanna Clavello

Today, librarians and library media specialists’ roles are more important than ever before. Let me explain why.

A research report from Adobe Education notes that, “In today’s world, a proficient employee needs to be computer literate, visually literate, information literate, media literate, and digitally literate.” Yet, a recent study from Stanford School of Education proves a shocking reality: the majority of middle school through college students are digitally illiterate. With so much emphasis on educating students to be good readers, how can we explain this disconnect?

We live in an age where instead of a traditional textbook, the world has become the curriculum and it can be easily accessed anytime. This reality has a significant impact on teaching practices, and since this shift challenges a comfortable and safe status quo, the future of many classrooms is for the most part stuck in the past.

Century after century and decade after decade, the American public school curriculum has adapted to meet the needs of a constantly evolving society. The Information Age began in the late 20th Century with the birth of the internet, putting new demands for a new skillset among graduates. Today, shifts in the global economy plus the increasing sophistication of technology and the shift from Web 1.0 to 2.0, then 3.0 and 4.0 have opened doors to the Conceptual Age. This very fast change has put strains in an education system that has been slow to adapt. In their book Teacher as Architect, Smith, Chavez and Seaman conclude that this inevitable change “...will require an upgrade to our curriculum, new instructional methods and materials, a new profile of a global graduate, and an open mind.”

The difference between deep learning and passing a standardized test is a fundamental change in pedagogy that creates a relevant, rigorous experience.  Leilani Cauthen from The Learning Counsel explains, “...nearly every industry is moving into the Experience Economy while the education sector has largely been left behind. It has instead been filled with new requirements for endless testing and accommodations while not being reinvented to discard some of the earlier, now non-relevant things.” (The Consumerization of Learning, Book 1, Chapter 4)

The definition of literacy has changed in the Conceptual Age and Experience Economy. Traditionally, literacy has been defined as the combination of reading, writing, speaking and listening -a skillset that is taught throughout the curriculum and across grade levels, and that state requirements and accountability measures put much emphasis on. Yet, these skills do not transfer from print to online format. Teaching reading using digital content requires a shift in thinking about what we call literacy as well as a change in pedagogy.

Digital literacy -which many equate to media literacy, web literacy, information fluency, information literacy, or transliteracy- is constantly evolving as technology continues to change and the demands of society continue to increase.

The digital world is where students spend a great deal of time looking up and sharing information, creating content, and interacting with others. Educators must understand the impact of this media on students’ identity and behavior, and help them become literate in the chaotic and confusing web of information. In his Myths and Opportunities: Technology in the Classroom video, Alan November reminds us that one of the myths about technology in education is that the web provides diverse ideas from around the world resulting in a generally better educated society, when in reality, this can only be accomplished when users know how to validate and interpret information in order to make informed decisions.

If you are curious about how digitally literate your students are, try one of these experiments. Take your elementary students to TheDogIsland.com and practice main idea and details, context clues, cause and effect, and other reading comprehension skills. Then ask them, Would you take your dog to Dog Island? Why or why not? Observe their reasoning and the conclusions they draw. How many of them realize that the information is completely false? And if they do, how can they tell?

If you work with secondary students, ask when is it best to search for information using Google, Wolfram Alpha, Wayback Machine, subscription-based digital collections, or Twitter. Chances are, this may be confusing. Students may not realize that the quality, credibility, audience, and purpose of the information may vary drastically in each of these sources.

Digital literacy is not defined as the knowledge of using technology tools and applications; it is a combination of competencies and skills that are constantly evolving. According to Dr. Renee Hobbs, University of Rhode Island professor and founder of the Media Education Lab, “digital and media literacy closes the gap between the classroom and the culture because it capitalizes on the idea of making information relevant. Relevance ignites intellectual curiosity, and intellectual curiosity fuels lifelong learning.”

On the other hand, educational researcher Doug Belshaw discusses eight essential elements of digital literacy in his TEDx talk: cognitive, constructive, communicative, civic, critical, creative, confident, and cultural - which add another layer of complexity and depth to the modern definition of literacy. Belshaw concludes, “Digital literacies allow ideas to be amplified, to spread quickly, to be remixed.”

Just like reading online is different from reading on paper, so is writing. When students get ready to write online, there should be a prior conversation on what to write, where to publish it, for what purpose, for whose benefit, and how to use good judgment to engage in civil dialogue, should it become necessary.

Current state standards fall short of deepening student understanding of the intricacies of the digital world. Research projects using digital resources are often planned at the end of the school year -once standardized testing is over- and new literacy skills are often covered superficially. In addition, teacher preparation and professional development opportunities very rarely include digital literacy.

Current data from surveys nationwide indicate that 72% of teachers never ask their students to use online tools like Twitter or news feeds to acquire information, and 60% of teachers never or rarely ask their students to conduct research projects using digital resources (BrightBytes, January 2017). Why does this matter? Professor Renee Hobbs says that, “To take advantage of online educational opportunities, people need to have a good understanding of how knowledge is constructed, and how it represents reality and articulates one point of view” (Hobbs, 2010). More than one point of view is needed to draw conclusions and make informed decisions.

The ISTE standards for students 2016 cover digital literacy, and can guide educators in weaving new literacies across the curriculum fabric. State technology standards, on the other hand, may not reflect the most current digital literacy competencies and skills. Consequently, we must create opportunities for students -and adults alike- to be prepared to meet the demands of a constantly changing society, distinguish facts from alternative news, and engage in civil discourse.

As Alan November mentions to in his Mission Critical: How Educators Can Help Save Democracy article (December 2016), conditions that keep schools from teaching digital literacy include:

  • Teaching that often focuses on what is tested, and does not foster enough intellectual inquiry or academic exploration;

  • The omission of digital literacy in the core curriculum and standardized assessments;

  • Restrictive web filters that block teachable moments and give a false sense of security instead of promoting digital citizenship and critical thinking;

  • Limited knowledge of search strategies and how to validate online information;

  • Research skills that are taught superficially, late in the school year, in secondary grades only, or as a one-time introduction at the library.

The following are additional contributing factors:

  • Schools requiring teachers to follow a scripted curriculum versus allowing them to be creative and responsive to their students’ interests and cultural backgrounds;

  • The use of digital devices for supplemental programs or remedial courses, thus limiting access to tools for inquiry and creative work;

  • The misunderstanding that research equates to looking up information, with no analysis or synthesis involved in the process;

  • A perception that technology-related activities are separate from core instruction and therefore non-essential;

  • The fear that technology will eventually replace classroom teachers;

  • Teaching practices that are no longer current and do not harness the power of digital tools. In other words, why ask questions that students can google?  

  • A lack of certified library media specialists at each campus; and

  • A lack of awareness of the implications of digital illiteracy.

So what can schools do to ensure that students are good navigators of the digital world? A lot, actually. Here are some considerations:

  • Identify opportunities to use technology beyond the stage of consumption or substitution of traditional schoolwork, and redesign instruction to allow for student collaboration and creation of content;

  • Equip students with the necessary skills to validate information online and make informed decisions;

  • Allow students to be curious and question the validity of information they are exposed to, challenge assumptions and engage in high levels of inquiry and civil discourse;  

  • Provide opportunities for students to apply complex thinking to identify and create solutions to predictable and unpredictable problems in their community and beyond;

  • Empower students to think about their own thinking, and tap into their personal interests and passions;

  • Allow students to take control of their own learning;

  • Expose students to different social media channels, identify look fors, and develop a deeper understanding of how information is constructed and shared;

  • Implement a digital citizenship program with fidelity and establish a culture of safe, ethical and responsible use of technology;

  • Provide access to a quality collection of subscription-based digital resources that are reliable and trustworthy, and promote their use;

  • Involve school librarians and library media specialists throughout the process.

Why are school librarians and library media specialists so critical in this mission? For once, librarians are experienced classroom teachers with a Master’s degree in library and information science, and certification. They are the information experts on campus for both digital and print materials. They are also computer literate.

Librarians support teachers in helping students build literacy skills -including digital literacy- by teaching students to distinguish legitimate sources from untrustworthy ones, make sense of the information they are exposed to and put it into the right context, so they can make informed, responsible decisions. The library is the largest classroom on campus -a place where curiosity leads to discovery. Librarians provide resources and strategies to promote and implement innovative learning opportunities for students. In addition, they partner with teachers “to design and implement curricula and assessments that integrate elements of deeper learning, critical thinking, information literacy, digital citizenship, creativity, innovation and the active use of technology.” (see futureready.org).

Some of the most exemplary lessons I have observed are the ones co-designed by teams of teachers, librarians and instructional technologists. Some of the best student projects I have seen were supported by a great school librarian.

Schools have the responsibility to teach students and educators alike how to navigate today’s messy and chaotic digital world responsibly and with confidence. We invite you to be open minded about the ideas listed above, remove any barriers or limiting thoughts, and envision the benefits of a digitally literate community at your school. And if it ever feels too overwhelming, remember Martin Luther King Jr.’s words: “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

Susanna Clavello serves as the Coordinator of Digital Age Learning at Education Service Center, Region 20. She is also an IPEC certified professional coach and Energy Leadership Master Practitioner.


Insights Portfolio Sessions: An Interview with Traci Burgess, CEO of BrightBytes

By: Carolina Küng
Original post from Insight Venture Partners

Longtime EdTech executive Traci Burgess is wrapping up her first full year as the CEO of BrightBytes. BrightBytes is a data analytics company that helps schools to better understand their students. The company launched in 2012 and now serves one out of five schools in the U.S. BrightBytes is at the forefront of data-impact learning. 

“K-12 education, and the world as a whole, is data-rich and information-poor,” Burgess told us. “One of the things that BrightBytes brings to school districts is a meaningful way to make sense of data and use it to impact learning for students and the education institutions themselves. We take very complicated issues at a school – like the dropout rate – and we layer in different analytics and years of research to bring school districts, teachers, principals, and leaders, information that’s easily digestible and actionable.”

Burgess has spent her career entirely in education. Her early passion for mathematics led her to pursue a career as a math educator. After deciding she wanted the opportunity to help students on a larger scale, she made the move from the classroom to leadership roles in education sales and publishing, and eventually, into educational technology.

Traci Burgess recently sat down with us to talk about her journey, the most impactful piece of advice she received while building her career, the lessons she has learned as a CEO, and her views on the importance of setting and driving clear and measurable personal and team goals. 

Read the full discussion below, but in summary, Traci provides the following advice to emerging leaders in growing companies:

  • Find a mentor and learn to use the person effectively
  • Be an empathetic team leader
  • Create short and long-term goals for yourself and track your progress against them
  • Encourage your team members to do likewise
  • Never underestimate the value of effective team communication
  • Give talented team members a seat at the table and encourage them to lean in

Q: What was the best piece of advice you were given when you started on your path from math teacher to CEO?  
I had a strong mentor when I was young who helped me set a path to my end goal. One thing he told me was that the best leaders were those who could build out talent (he’d been in sales, all the way up to COO). He said, ‘If you’re going to progress into being a CEO, you must first show how you can build out a team. Scale the team, scale the company, move to that next level of operating, and you’ll have a natural transition to being a CEO.’  That’s the approach that I’ve taken with my career.

Q: We often come across anecdotes where a new CEO has a moment when they realize, “Oh wow, I’m actually running this company.” What was that moment like for you?
I was very fortunate that when I started at BrightBytes I had a three-week learning period with both of the original founders where we spent a tremendous amount of time onboarding. Onboarding was a whirlwind situation and somewhere around week three when the current CEO stepped away, I remember being at a Friday meeting where I twice said “Well, we should think of it this way,” and twice I was corrected because there was no more “we”. My heart skipped a beat. That was a defining moment for me.

Q: What was your first real challenge or loss as a CEO, and how did you handle it?
That’s an easy one. Early on in my tenure I had to make some tough staffing decisions and I didn’t realize how much of an impact this would have on the greater organization until it was underway. I have lived through restructuring and layoffs at past companies – but this was totally different. I realized that every move we made was going to directly affect and change people’s lives, that we were impacting every degree of their lives. This taught me the importance of being thoughtful and empathetic as a team leader – it was either that or losing all of my people.  

Q: What did that experience teach you about yourself and your leadership style?
Simply put, it taught me never to underestimate the value of communication.
Since then, I’ve made communication a focus across BrightBytes. For example, we’ve introduced meetings that bring middle management and the executive team together once a month to problem solve and build relationships. If we’re communicating with middle management leaders often, then we can make sure that changes are properly understood and debated across the company. And, every Friday we get together as a whole company and discuss these same issues. We communicate and we’re much more transparent than we would have been had I not gone through that experience up front.

Q: Female advocates like Sheryl Sandberg and Sallie Krawcheck have been very vocal on the need for women to “lean in” and to redefine our workplaces. How does that compare with your style of leadership, and what are your thoughts on it?
I would agree with that. Some of the frustrations in my career came when I thought I was ready to lead a company, but I wasn’t leaning in. I was sitting back, thinking that my actions and my performance would get me there automatically. That just doesn’t work for anyone.
Women definitely have to “lean in” more. Women have to be comfortable at the table with other executives and feel like they belong there. That’s the hardest thing, and I watch it even here, where some of the women who I think are amazingly talented tend to sit back and wait to be called, versus voicing their thoughts and being more assertive. 

Q: And as a leader how are you promoting a “lean in” attitude?
Having the right people at the table and encouraging them to speak is the trick. It’s on me to bring talented women to BrightBytes and also to give them the voice to speak up so they can excel and move up through the organization. And that goes for anyone in the organization – I’ve invited everyone on my team to sit down with me for an hour every two to three weeks. Interestingly enough, the women who have taken me up on that offer are the very same women who I think could be leaders someday very soon. 

Q: What do you discuss at these meetings? 
During our chats, we focus on goals and goal setting a lot. We talk about clear paths, you know, “What are your near-term goals? Where do you want to be one month, one year, three years, five years from now?” It seems to me that the tendency out here is not to think about that, and I’m always surprised by this. I also think it’s a West Coast/East Coast thing.

Q: How so?
When I was growing up, we always kind of knew, “This is what I want to do in one year, this is what I want to do in three years.” If somebody asked you that question in an interview, it was pretty easy to communicate your answer.

I’ve asked that question to several people in this organization and they can’t answer it. I’ve made an effort to change that mindset and get everyone to think about it – especially the women here who want to be successful and grow in their careers. I’ve taken it upon myself to work with these folks to make sure they’re more career- and goal-oriented.

Q: Why do you think that is? Do you think it’s just the nature of how companies work these days – where employees inherently expect to change jobs/careers/industries several times throughout their working lives? 
Yes, I think changing jobs is much more acceptable today than when I was growing up.  Often people believe that their next step is much larger than the experience they have behind it, and that we [the company], should just recognize that and put you there. I find that people often think along the lines of, ‘If I just do the work for a couple of years, I should get the next opportunity. And if I don’t, I’ll move on to another organization.’ The problem is that people spin in these roles, especially women, because you’re not getting the skill set and you’re not focused on the end goal. You’re going to continue to spin in an organization and probably never reach your true potential. So, I’ve tried to change the mentality here to say: “If this is your end goal, lets actively think of all the steps you need to do to get there.” 

Q: Examples? 
It’s the beginning of the year, so in a recent all-company meeting, I ended with why I think goal-setting is important and gave the team my three goals. I was open about them – and they’re not financial goals, talking about hitting your numbers and growing the company – they were real goals. I made them see me as a real person who’s not afraid to be open about how I feel and to assess my areas of improvement.
I had a lot of people approach me afterward to say, “Can I sit with you for an hour to talk about my goals and get them down on paper?” – That’s when I started my weekly chat program.

Q: All of that said, what advice would you give to other CEO’s?
Get your team to think about their career, think about their goals and realize that they may not be able to achieve all of them in your organization. You want to coach and help them along. At the end of the day, this is about people. It’s really important to me to retain, train and keep everyone on this team motivated. I’ve been in organizations where developing people wasn’t the most important thing that CEOs and other leaders thought about. It’s a big mistake to go through the time and expense of bringing on folks and then not take care of them. Plus, goal-setting works. I learned very early on from my manager that you should have three goals every year, and three goals every week, and you should spend time thinking about how to achieve those goals. Keep yourself measured. If you don’t do that, a lot of noise and other things get in the way.

Q: What’s one interesting fact about you that most people wouldn’t know about?
I think a lot of people who know me would say, “You’re never going to retire. You’re too driven, you’re always going to be in the mix of things.” What people don’t know is I dream of someday living in the Bahamas.

Now I say that, I probably never will…But I think when people meet me, get to know me and see me in my workspace, they would never think I could ever calm down and live in that environment. But it’s a thing I think about often in the back of my mind – escaping, going there and having a whole different perspective on life.

Schools Shift to Free, Public-Domain Curricula

By: Leslie Brody
Original post from The Wall Street Journal

Teachers Embrace Creative Freedom in ‘Open Educational Resources,’ but Critics Say Quality Is Inconsistent

The Mentor Public School district in suburban Ohio hasn’t bought textbooks since 2012, when it spent more than $1 million on them.

Its leaders hope to stop paying for textbooks altogether.

They want teachers in this district for 7,700 students to use free materials available online as much as possible. Teachers are cooking up their own classes in economics, government and high school English, without off-the-shelf commercial products.

“We’re past the day and age of buying a textbook and saying it has everything in it that our kids need,” said Superintendent Matthew Miller.

Mentor is one of a growing number of districts nationwide embracing “open educational resources,” or OER, for kindergarten through 12th grade. These are typically materials in the public domain or released under an intellectual property license that allows teachers to use, remix and repurpose them for free. Supporters see this shift as giving teachers more leeway to be creative, though some skeptics warn the resources can be of inconsistent quality.

OER includes lessons, videos, games and software. Teachers can show students college lectures online, for example, or tap the Smithsonian Institution’s website to recreate Benjamin Franklin’s experiments about electricity.

Now advocates for this trend are highlighting the emergence of entire curricula, rather than just supplements, that are available for free. “Saying that teachers should develop OER was blasphemy 10 years ago,” says Brian Ausland, a consultant at Navigation North, a company that helps schools use educational technology. “Now it is being encouraged by states and the federal government.”

Mentor is one of 107 districts nationwide that committed to replace at least one textbook with free materials within a year. This U.S. Department of Education initiative even has its own Twitter hashtag, #GoOpen. Money once spent on textbooks often gets shifted to teacher training and devices, such as laptops and tablets.

Teachers say these resources are often more engaging and up-to-date than commercial textbooks and their digital versions, and make it easy to pull in different lessons for students of a wide range of abilities. Some see OER as a cost-saving boon for students in poor districts. But many who dive into the sea of free options caution it takes a major investment of time to find what works best.

“Sometimes you get what you pay for,” says Heather Wolpert-Gawron, a middle school English teacher in Los Angeles who uses OER. “We have to look at it with a really skeptical but open eye.”

Representatives of established publishers say open resources can be useful as add-ons, but students benefit from core curricula honed by experts because they are more reliable and structured better. Peter Cohen, executive vice president of McGraw-Hill Education, said, “We spend literally tens of millions of dollars every year on programs to make sure they are well researched, well curated and effective.”

New York took a big step in promoting OER in 2011 when it released EngageNY, a free database of lessons in reading and math aligned to the new Common Core State Standards. These academic standards have been adopted by more than 40 states in recent years and spelled out what students should learn in each grade.

As teachers across the country hunted for help in meeting the new expectations, many found textbooks sorely lacking and EngageNY took off. According to state data, more than 17 million users have visited the site nearly 46 million times and downloaded more than 66 million documents.

Nonprofits are building on this free model and getting help from major philanthropies. Some aim to provide not just piecemeal lessons, but soup-to-nuts full-year curricula, with teacher guides.

This month a California-based nonprofit called Open Up Resources announced it teamed up with a New York-based nonprofit, EL Education, to offer a new core curriculum in English language arts for kindergarten through fifth grade.

“We would like nothing more than to change the market to focus on learners’ needs rather than shareholder value,” said Larry Singer, chief executive officer at Open Up Resources. The partnership is backed by foundations and expects revenue from optional services like coaching teachers to use its materials.

UnboundEd, another nonprofit backed by philanthropy, develops free curriculum that teachers can use to help poor children who are behind catch up quickly.

“Teachers don’t have the time or expertise to rewrite curriculum,” said Kate Gerson, managing partner of UnboundEd and a former teacher and principal. “On a Sunday night you barely have time to figure out what you’ll teach for the next three days.”

Despite the proliferation of free resources, the Association of American Publishers reports that annual net sales of instructional materials for prekindergarten through 12th grade grew in recent years. The group’s tally of the largest education publishers found net sales, in print and digital formats, of $4.11 billion in 2015, up 10% from 2012, though that rise has been choppy.

Jay Diskey, executive director for the PreK-12 Learning Group at the association, said that “OER evangelists” have predicted the death of the textbook market for years but that hasn’t happened. “It’s becoming more and more of a blended world,” he said.

Appeared in the Mar. 31, 2017, print edition as 'Schools Shift to Free ‘Open’ Curricula.'

Digital Privacy, Safety & Security Module Named Winner in EdTech Digest’s 2017 Cool Tool Awards

Original post from EdTech Digest

EdTech Digest Awards Program 2017: Shaping Our Future
Any education company is, by the era in which we now live, an edtech company. And today, any educator, learner, or leader is at least a nascent technologist. Billions of dollars have been invested in this future, and we will no doubt invest billions more. Whatever the immediate figures, because of the integral nature of education to humanity’s ultimate survival, the long-term trend will only be up. In honoring cool tools, inspiring leaders, and innovative trendsetters in education, we do so with a sense of excitement, but also a sense of responsibility. Dream-to-reality makers are awesome to behold. But the stakes are high because these honorees are shaping our future. Perhaps more so than in any other sector, in education there are mission-driven companies and there are purpose-driven people. For what mission, and for what purposes committed individuals or dedicated groups of people help advance the rest of us, is what we honor and celebrate here. And with that, here’s to the innovators, leaders, and trendsetters shining bright in one of the greatest fields of human endeavor.

BrightBytes is thrilled to be a Cool Tool Award Winner in the Security/Privacy category for the Digital Privacy, Safety & Security module!

Rob Mancabelli Return on Learning: Invest in Learning Outcomes with Quantifiable Information
DALI Presentation Tampa, FL

Presentation during February 2017 DALI Session

Rob Mancabelli starts with a bold statement, that "21st Century Learning" is the most used phrase in education today. Educators debate the concept at length, but the steps towards creating a "21st Century Classroom" are far less discussed. Many districts are stuck somewhere on this journey, they have provided their schools with the equipment, but are missing the pieces that support seamless technology integration - including professional development, network accessibility and classroom structure. Using BrightBytes, educational leaders can determine where to direct their focus and use their resources wisely to make the biggest impact.

Rob Mancabelli on Using Data to Make Better Decisions
Education Week

By: Tom Vander Ark
Original post from Education Week

Hashim Anwar asked his business school friend Rob Mancabelli for advice on his children’s education. As a former teacher and school administrator, Rob knew how hard it was to find good data to guide education decisions.

The two had attended MIT’s Sloan Business School to prepare to work on global innovation, but their conversation led to a big idea—bring the big data tools common in industry to education to help educators make better informed decisions.

The business school friendship of an educator and data scientist led to the formation of BrightBytes, and in this podcast, Rob shares more about how they work to help educators find and use the right data to improve student achievement.

Podcast Highlights

Five years ago there were people thinking about education data but none connecting it to research. Rob observed, “It takes three things to make a good decision: to know the research, to collect and use the right data, and to identify the right next steps based on what similar schools have done."

Leaders from almost 2,500 school districts representing about one in five U.S. students are informed by BrightBytes. The Clarity platform combines research and analysis to improve decision making by turning complex data into actionable information.

In addition to standardized test results, BrightBytes helps administrators collect broader proxies for student success. “We work with institutions on their priorities, and help them improve their return on learning by doing more of what the research says they should be doing,” added Mancabelli.

For example, a new superintendent in a district with a high dropout rate could use the platform to compare their district data to research on 23 factors. After developing a strengths and gaps analysis of their schools, BrightBytes supports an early warning system that identifies students at-risk of dropping out.

Unlike consulting firms that inflict a van full of new MBAs on an organization for months at a time, BrightBytes extracts information from existing systems and provides analytics through a cost-effective software subscription.

Five years ago, the application of a crude checklist was the best early warning system for at-risk students, but resulted in a large number of false positives. "Machine learning allows us to predictively look at historical data and get to more granular answers," said Rob.

"Machine learning is changing so quickly, it’s an exciting area to work in. We’ve come so far since we started,” said Mancabelli.

As a former school administrator now working on bleeding edge decision support systems, Mancabelli advises Ed Leaders to focus on their own learning. “We often don’t know what we don’t know,” said Rob. He urged leaders to make time every week for learning,

On building an impact organization, Rob said, “Check in with customers but build to your vision.”

He added, “Think about organization building as much as product development. Hire smart caring people and focus on culture."

K-12 Predictive Analytics: Time for a Better Dropout Diagnosis
Real Clear Education

By: Dr. Joel Boyd
Original post from Real Clear Education

Imagine going to your family doctor with a cough, fever and chills. You explain that you’ve had symptoms for a few days. Most of us already know what questions the doctor will ask, and with good reason. Doctors are trained in differential diagnosis. They don’t hear a cough and assume that you’ve come down with pneumonia. They look for the simplest, most common explanation to a problem first and utilize blood work, X-rays or MRIs to guide them in the search for rare or complicated explanations.

Unfortunately, school districts generally have far fewer tools to identify students at risk of dropping out. Unlike blood work or X-rays, K-12 early warning systems typically rely on as few as four lagging indicators  —considered in isolation— to diagnose problems. The risk piles up before teachers and administrators are called to action. Sadly, most states and districts use this very same approach to allocate and target precious resources.

Pioneered in the late nineties, so-called “threshold” or “static” early warning systems, which identify correlations in nationally aggregated data to identify cut points for risk indicators (using data like grades or attendance rates), are not without utility. But they tend toward over-identification of high school students because they rely on data for what brings students off track later in their academic careers. They also under-identify at-risk elementary students, causing educators to miss the opportunity to intervene early. Research suggests that static models can achieve about 50 percent accuracy in identifying students at risk before eighth grade. But a one-in-two chance of identifying the right students means that far too many students can fall through the cracks.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Real-time analysis of disparate data streams now enables the beneficial application of predictive analytics for everything from credit card fraud detection to personalized health care. And, as it turns out, the “digital symptoms” required to identify students at risk already exist in most districts. Districts can access and use that data to inform decision-making. And the advent of lower-cost technologies for data integration means that districts can apply advanced statistical methods and predictive analytics to direct resources toward students in earlier grades and bring them back on track with minimal interventions relative to the extensive efforts required to assist students in middle and high school.

Predictive analytics, which are increasingly used to support college retention, are fundamentally different from static early warning systems in that they move beyond national-level correlations, and use a district’s historical data, along with complex algorithms, machine learning techniques and current student indicators to forecast the likelihood that a student will go off track at some point in their academic careers. Unlike static models, predictive models “learn” over time and can identify risk indicators for sub-populations of students by grade level. The approach not only provides regular and on-going data to school staff to identify at-risk students early but also helps pinpoint the reasons students might be off track.

The deeper data is essential to making smart decisions about how to allocate limited resources. If educators notice a child is struggling with reading comprehension, for example, they can intervene with targeted supports early in a school year rather than relying on intensive remediation of a student who has been off track for a year or more. With more accurate identification, school and district leaders can make better decisions about how to direct resources that are likely to help more students do better.

A predictive analytics model may be able to identify with much more accuracy —about 94 percent in some cases—the students who are truly at risk. As school districts better diagnose challenges, more students have an equitable shot at building the skills they need to succeed in school and beyond. Our old approach to early warning served its purpose, but newer models can get us where we need to go more efficiently. It’s time to retire threshold approaches and open the door to predictive analytics. Our children deserve it.

BrightBytes Presentation at Litchfield School Board Meeting
Litchfield Independent Review

By: Leah Byron
Original post from "Litchfield School Board Makes Decision on Re-Roofing Project" Litchfield Independent Review

This summer, the Litchfield School District plans to replace sections of the high school and middle school roofs, as well as the entire roof over Lake Ripley Elementary, per a 10-year maintenance plan approved by the Litchfield School Board Monday.

Re-roofing is just one component of the district’s maintenance plan, outlining a schedule for facility improvements through 2027. The plan, approved annually by the School Board, also calls for re-paving the Wagner Education Building parking lot this year.

While the board has spending concerns, Jesse Johnson noted that designating funds to complete the replacement of a quality roof would cost less overall.

Andrea Uhl, a financial specialist from Ehlers and Associates, the district’s financial advisor, presented the board the information about general obligation bonds in order to finance the project.

The project is estimated to require a $2.5 million bond issue, which the board unanimously approved obtaining, along with a pre-sale report and notice of intent.

Enrollment Declines Steadily
Because Minnesota public schools are funded on a per-pupil basis, Superintendent Daniel Frazier expressed concern over the district’s declining enrollment. Currently, the total number of students enrolled in district is at 1,549. But Frazier predicts that this number will drop in the next five years to 1,328, a loss of 221 potential students.

Declining enrollment may be attributed to more than one factor. By 2021, Frazier projected that the kindergarten class size will be at 99 students, while the senior class size could be at 104 students. Compared to the 150 students that were enrolled for the year 2015, that is a significant decrease, he noted.

The number of births in Meeker County has dropped as well. Five years ago, in 2011, there were 136 births. In 2015, the birth rate was 123. It was noted that lowest number of births was in 2014, at only 100.

The board concluded that members need to keep watching enrollment numbers. The board needs to find a way to mitigate declining enrollment, Frazier explained.

Director Discusses Technology Implementation
Since the board’s first focus is on technology, members were eager to learn how technology is being used by the student body and faculty, according to chairman Marlin Schutte. Jennifer Ridgeway, technology director, gave a presentation on BrightBytes, a learning data and technology assessment tool.

BrightBytes assesses technology-based learning data nationwide and for individual districts based on a framework known as Classroom-Access-Skills-Environment, or CASE. In its assessment, Ridgeway reported that Litchfield Schools are above average for the state and the nation in terms of proficiency in technology. Overall, the district scored exemplary, with a higher score than both the state and nation.

Ridgeway explained that the students are using Apple computers and tablets as a tool to learn and study better in and outside of school. The fact that students will have to update their computer systems in a couple of years was a primary discussion point between Ridgeway and the board. Ridgeway agreed to talk to her administrative team to get a better sense of how to best keep up the systems.

Almost every job now has at least some usage of the computer and using it in schools helps teach problem-solving, Schutte said.

“We are committed to helping our students prepare for life, citizenship and work in an ever-changing business and technology world,” Ridgeway said.

In Other Action
The board hired Ann Selix as a special education paraprofessional at Lake Ripley Elementary working for 5.75 hours per day at a starting wage of $12.64 per hour.
The board accepted the following staff resignations: paraprofessionals Jan Johnson and Shannon Bode, physical education and health teacher Jo Carlson and physical education teacher John Carlson. The Carlsons are retiring at the end of the school year.
The board approved two overnight trip requests: one for the girls golf team to attend a tournament in Brainerd in May and another for the robotics club to attend a competition in Duluth in March.

The board approved the district’s 2017-18 school calendar.

The next School Board meeting is Feb. 27 in the Wagner Education Building.

How Schools Improve
Getting Smart

By: Tom Vander Ark

Original post from Getting Smart

Frustrated by the lack of widely used improvement frameworks in schools, a colleague emailed some questions. Following is a quick attempt to outline approaches to improvement and innovation.

I see teachers sitting around the table with reports and then deciding to do a program or do more PD. How can we develop a more formal improvement framework that would drive effectiveness and efficiency?

There are five important steps to developing or adapting an improvement framework.

1. Prioritize outcomes. Hold community conversations about what graduates should know and be able to do–like those in El Paso, Houston, and Marion, Ohio. An updated graduate profile can help create role and goal clarity by identifying priority student learning outcomes and ways of measuring (or estimating) those outcomes.

2. Do the research. Create a shared vision of what good practice looks. Unless you’re inventing a new set of practices, that picture should be research-based. BrightBytes is a decision support tool used by almost 1500 districts that allows teams to compare their outcomes with research recommendations.

3. Build a learning model. A common approach to supporting powerful learner experiences may include shared

  • Content, tasks and assessments (i.e., curriculum);
  • Teacher practices (e.g., Teach Like a Champ);
  • Values and behavioral norms;
  • Guidance and youth and family support services; and
  • Structures, schedules and staffing strategies that support learning.

Voluntary and managed school networks (and districts that act like networks) are disciplined about defining and supporting a learning model including some or all of these factors.

Some districts and networks go a step further and identify core processes and support systems for each (listen to an interview with Colorado’s District 51).

4. Identify metrics and source the data. In the 90s, best practice was a war room of handwritten data that allowed teachers and leaders to visually spot problems. By 2000, Excel spreadsheets were common. Data shops like Schoolzilla, spun out from Aspire Public Schools in 2013, help organize district data. Unfortunately, it’s still challenging to combine all the data schools are receiving.

5. Adopt a shared improvement framework. “School leaders need to focus their attention on creating the conditions where teachers have the resources, courage and support to experiment with improving their practice, and then the space to share what they are learning with other educators,” said Justin Reich, executive director of the MIT Teaching Systems Lab.

An improvement framework identifies core processes (e.g., reading instruction), shared practices (e.g., guided reading), quality metrics (e.g., observations, running record), improvement tools, and review cycles.

The improvement framework for the New Tech Network (below) incorporates shared values, process tools and common structures.

Who is doing this well?

Total quality management (TQM) tools and strategies have been used by some schools for 30 years. Church, Alaska, was an early adopter and first to win Baldrige Award. Former superintendent Rich DeLorenzo describes the journey and toolset in Delivering on the Promise.

APQC has been advancing similar process tools for more than 20 years.

Process tools are important, but continuous improvement starts with what Rob Waldron, Curriculum Associates, calls a “Tell it like it is” culture—a shared commitment to honesty, transparency, and accountability.

So where does innovation fit in?

Improvement is doing things better. Innovation is doing things differently hoping for breakthrough results. School districts and networks must constantly negotiate the balance between improvement efforts and phases of innovation.

Take competency-based learning for example. It implies new learning and assessment strategies, requires new structures and supports, and it demands a new way of thinking about success—it’s a big innovation. You won’t get there with cycles of continuous improvement. It requires a design process that reconsiders every aspect of education. It may be implemented in a few phases but once the new system is in place, you can go back to continuous improvement to make it work better for teachers and students.

Improvement can be undertaken with internal faculty agreements. Results are reported to stakeholders, but you don’t need permission to do better. An innovation, like the shift to competency-based learning, requires a broader community agreement because it involves investment, risk and new desired outcomes.

What about Design Thinking?

Design Thinking starts with an investigation of customer needs and imagining possible futures. It’s more about inventing than improving. 

A growing number of schools help students and faculty use design thinking to attack problems (see posts on Olin Colleged.Tech and DSISD). It’s often used in the inquiry phase (i.e., problem finding) preceding project-based learning (a sprint to a defined deliverable).

Based on the book Designing Your Life, One Stone students spent a time in January applying design thinking to their lives by imagining possible futures (i.e., what problem would I like to solve) and designing quick prototypes (e.g., a job shadow). 

Sometimes a problem spotted in a continuous improvement cycle is tough enough to warrant a quick design thinking exercise that may lead to a full process redesign (akin to business process reengineering). 

How about Lean Startup?

Coined by Eric Ries, lean startup is an approach to organizational development that (like design thinking) values hypothesis development, prototyping, and rapid iteration.

It’s usually applied at an early stage than continuous improvement—often well before shared and documented processes are adopted. The lean mindset and practices are similar to and useful in continuous improvement.