Can ESSA Plans Invigorate State STEM Intentions?

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Could states use their ESSA plans to formulate innovative ways to advance STEM in their schools? That’s the hope of an organization that recently examined the Every Student Succeeds Act plans developed by states for submission to the U.S. Department of Education. The analysis looked at the 17 plans that have already been submitted as well as eight other draft plans. The work was undertaken by education consultancy Education First on behalf of Overdeck Family Foundation, a family non-profit that supports programs for developing children’s love of education and especially the STEM subjects.

Researchers Anand Vaishnav and Jacob Waters identified four “high-impact policies” that surfaced throughout many of the plans, three that involved inclusion in state accountability systems:

  • State science assessment progress, referenced in 17 plans;
  • Career- and technical-education (CTE) indicators, mentioned in 17 plans; and
  • Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate indicators, included by 19 states.

A fourth policy referenced in the plans of 10 states was to require or encourage STEM elements in 21st Century Community Learning Center grants. As an example, New Jersey’s plan references STEM as one of four themes that its learning centers may choose to focus on.

The researchers found fewer similarities among plans in how states intend to use Title II or Title IV dollars for STEM.

For Title II, the funding intentions largely cover improvement of skills and recruitment. For example, the plan submitted by Louisiana stated, “… teacher preparation providers will be rewarded for placing yearlong teaching residents in rural and high-need schools, and in high-need subject areas.” The researchers presume that the high-need subject areas include STEM.

Title IV, Part A addressed STEM instruction and professional learning. Michigan, as one example, included these in its ESSA plan: “Professional development for STEM, including coding and game design”; “Professional development on how to embed STEM (engineering design principles, computational thinking, app design) in other content areas”; and “Providing programming to improve instruction and student engagement in STEM, including computer science, and increasing access to these subjects for underrepresented groups.”

The findings called out three states — Iowa, New Mexico and Washington — for plans containing “STEM proposals that are worth watching.” For instance, New Mexico’s plan promises creation of a “new STEM readiness indicator in accountability that includes not just performance on science assessments, but student engagement in STEM.” Washington intends to expand its CTE opportunities through partnerships with companies that have a large presence in the state, including Microsoft and Boeing. Iowa has a “STEM Advisory Council” that is working to identify “high-quality STEM professional development.”

The researchers encouraged states as well as districts and STEM advocates to “think creatively in using ESSA dollars to support STEM.”

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Trends in Teacher Evaluation: At A Glance

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Trends in Teacher Evaluation: At A Glance

For decades, teacher evaluations were little more than a bureaucratic exercise that failed to recognize either excellence or mediocrity in teaching. As such, evaluation represented a missed opportunity for giving teachers valuable feedback that could help them improve their practice.

Increasingly, this is no longer the case. Since 2009, over two-thirds of states have made significant changes to how teachers are evaluated. For most states, the change was motivated by incentives available through the federal programs Race to the Top, No Child Left Behind waivers, and Teacher Incentive Fund. State applications for these funds earned additional credit for upgrading teacher evaluation systems so they take place annually and are based in part on student achievement (Bornfreund, 2013). Other states revamped their systems in response to new political leadership. Regardless of the reason, the end was the same: in most states, teacher performance will now be judged for its impact on student learning alongside traditional measures such as classroom observations, lesson plan reviews and others. Combined, these measures make for more accurate evaluations and serves as a tool for continuous improvement.

The changes states are instituting are far from minor. The most dramatic and controversial is the inclusion of student achievement measures in teacher evaluation. The way student achievement data is used, however, varies significantly by state. For example:

  • Most states use student scores from state standardized tests, but many also combine this data with measures such as student learning objectives (SLO), formative assessments, or some other indicator of student achievement.
  • States use different statistical methods for attributing student learning to teacher performance. The most widely used models are value-added and student growth percentiles (SGP), both of which attempt to measure student gains so that the system doesn’t unfairly disadvantage teachers whose students were low-performers when they entered their classrooms.
  • Student achievement data comprises only part of teachers’ overall evaluation score. In no state does it count for more than half; in several states it’s considerably less.
While linking student achievement to teachers is certainly groundbreaking, nearly every state is revamping how classroom observations are conducted, too. Gone are the days when a principal sits in on a teacher’s class every couple years, armed with a checklist of instructional requirements that rarely were associated with high quality instructional practices. In contrast, teachers are now being observed every year — and for many, multiple times a year — by trained evaluators using a researched-based rubric that more accurately judges instructional effectiveness. More importantly, the new classroom observations provide more useful feedback to teachers.

Student achievement and classroom observations are not the only measures used to evaluate teachers. Student/parent surveys, lesson plan reviews, teacher self-reflections and student artifacts are just some of the other measures included in teacher evaluation systems. In most states, districts have wide discretion on which measures to include along with student achievement and classroom observations. Each of these measures has their strengths in providing teacher’s valuable feedback about their instructional practices. There is less evidence, however, that they accurately predict teachers’ impact on student learning. The exception is student surveys. In fact, a recent study by the Gates Foundation found that a high-quality researched-based student survey can accurately measure a teacher’s future effectiveness and can enhance the accuracy of an evaluation system when combined with measures of student achievement and classroom observations.

Keep in mind that identifying teacher effectiveness is a relatively new concept and no system will be perfect. But by examining the different approaches states have taken, state and local education leaders can learn from each other to refine and improve their own systems.

Across states we found:

  • Forty-seven states require or recommend that stakeholders, including teachers, provide input into the design of new evaluation systems. Such input is important to gaining broad-based support.
  • Forty-six states require or recommend that evaluations include measures on how teachers impact their students’ achievement.
  • Classroom observations are a component of every state’s evaluation system; about a third (33) of them require or recommend all teachers be observed at least once a year.
  • Forty-one states require or recommend teachers be evaluated on multiple measures as a more complete and accurate gauge of performance.  No state evaluates teachers on test scores alone.
  • Most states are primarily focused on using evaluation for the purpose of raising teacher performance but also use the results to inform personnel decisions.
    • More than half (31) of states use evaluation results to target professional development opportunities for individual teachers.
    • Teachers can be dismissed due to poor evaluations in 32 states. However, typically teachers are not eligible to be dismissed until they have been rated as low-performing over multiple years and only after being provided interventions to improve. Even if the teacher fails to improve, in most states the decision to dismiss is left up to the discretion of the school district.
  • Local school districts need flexibility in designing and implementing teacher evaluation systems so they are aligned to the needs of the district. But they also need strong support from their states.
  • Seventeen states provide districts flexibility as well as support in developing evaluations systems while 21 states leave almost all the responsibility for developing an evaluation system in the hands of districts.

Developing a comprehensive teacher evaluation system is far from straightforward. But state and district policymakers should make every effort to ensure teachers are being evaluated fairly and accurately.

Whether developing a teacher evaluation system, or implementing a new one, school district leaders should ask these questions:

How is the evaluation system developed?

What is the goal of the evaluation system?

Do those goals align with the district strategic plan?

What flexibility do districts have to tailor the evaluation system to the district’s strategic plan?

Does the district have the knowledge and resources in-house to develop their own evaluation system or modify the state model?

Who was involved in development of the evaluation system? Were key stakeholders, particularly teachers, involved in some way?

What is included in the evaluation system?

What measures are included in the evaluation system? How much weight does each measure carry in the overall score?

How accurate are the results? What are the evaluation system’s strengths and weaknesses?

What measures are used to determine the impact a teacher has on their students’ achievement?

What statistical model is used to measure the impact? Why is that measure used? How accurately does it isolate a teacher’s impact on student achievement?

Are the same measures used to evaluate all teachers? If not, how do they differ?

How often are teachers observed in a classroom setting? Does the frequency differ by experience or the teacher’s previous performance level?

Do evaluators have enough time to conduct all the observations required without impeding on their other responsibilities?

Who conducts the observations? How are they trained?

Is the observation rubric researched-based and aligned with the district’s goals?

How are results used?

When do teachers receive feedback from each observation?

Are the overall evaluation results used to improve instructional quality? If so, how?

Are the results used for personnel decisions? If so, how?

Are the results made public? If so, what information is made public?

Data-driven decisions require CIOs to help educators interpret and organize vast amount of information

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When it comes to data analytics, Maribeth Luftglass,CIO at Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia, focuses on ensuring privacy of all student data. And, she adds, it should be a top concern for all CIOs. (Photo: Donnie Biggs, Fairfax County Schools)Just a few years ago, CIOs—if they were involved in data analytics at all—would run a report, export it into an Excel document and create a chart or a graph to share with teachers and district leaders once a week, or at the end of each semester.

Now it’s all about creating systems that aggregate and sort data automatically, making it easier for educators to view crucial information every day.

“The CIO is really becoming more of a leadership position,” says Elizabeth Dabney, director of research and policy analysis at the Data Quality Campaign. “It’s not just an IT role—it’s having a very broad vision and a good understanding of the value of data in supporting education goals at the district and being able to communicate that.”

Since creating its first custom data dashboard in 2014, Sun Prairie Area School District in Wisconsin has been in a constant push to develop easier ways for educators to analyze data pulled from all of its schools.

The district used to rely on the state’s WISEdash system, which is a data portal that uses “dashboards,” or visual collections of graphs and tables, to provide multiyear education data about Wisconsin schools.

But it was barely used, because it didn’t allow schools to really drill down into detailed data. So the Sun Prairie district joined a data consortium of local districts a few years ago and has been creating different custom dashboards with the help of a software company.

The most recent project: An early-warning system that identifies students at risk of not graduating high school. The system feeds data from 12 indicators—including attendance, grades and discipline—into an easy-to-use program so educators can provide extra support to at-risk students as early as middle school.

Educators would previously look at the risk indicators individually in WISEdash. The new system overlaps the data to show which students are most at risk.

“What we’ve seen is the need to get data into the hands of our teachers, and get that into their hands in real time so they can use that information for decision-making on an almost daily basis,” says Michael Mades, Sun Prairie’s director of technology.

Sun Prairie’s data transformation reflects changes in the day-to-day roles of CIOs and CTOs in many other districts. “I am not someone who is allowed to be in the background making sure that our infrastructure is working—that isn’t my job anymore,” says Tony Spence, chief information officer at Muskego-Norway School District, also in Wisconsin. “It’s on a much higher level. I spend most of my time making sure the data systems we have reflect the needs of the district.”

So how do CIOs keep up with the changing demands? Here’s what four CIOs and CTOs had to say about how data analytics is changing their jobs—and their districts.

CIO as data interpreter

CIOs say their role is increasingly that of a data interpreter—someone who bridges the gap between the technology department (or product vendor) and the academic and operational branches.

Mades, at Sun Prairie, says he speaks two languages. In meetings with principals, he talks in academic language about the kinds of data that can be generated to improve student achievement, for example. Then he goes back to his IT team and, in much more technical language, discusses the systems needed to track and analyze that data.

Mades is a member of both the academic and operational branches of the district, meaning he keeps tabs constantly on how every department uses data. “Part of my work in the meetings is to listen to what their needs are and then help our data system support those, whether that’s building new dashboards or modifying some of the reports,” Mades says.

Because Mades understands the problems leaders are trying to address, such as behavior, he can provide better analysis.

For example, if misbehavior reports increase at a school, he can help a principal determine if there’s a buildingwide issue or if the problem is limited to specific classrooms or teachers.

For Dane Conrad, director of technology at Hattiesburg School District in Mississippi, interpreting data involves working with the district’s academic evaluation specialist to determine what data should be collected and analyzed. He then turns to his vendors to identify programs or products that meet the specialist’s needs.

On a different day, he might help schools take better advantage of existing data—for example, showing them how to track and identify trends in teacher or student absences.

CIO as data visionary

Because systems change so quickly, analyzing systems is a task that requires being something of a data visionary. And it means understanding how data supports current district goals, and then thinking about what information its educators will need in five or 10 years.

Many CIOs are shifting their focus from managing district data servers and applications in-house to seeking out third-party vendors and cloud-based systems that automate analytics for them, says Tracy Weeks, executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association.

For CIOs who don’t have time to develop relationships with vendors that can provide analytics services, Weeks suggests teaming with neighboring districts to seek out the best products via consortium procurement agreements.

When looking for new products, Conrad from Hattiesburg relies on an email Listserv for district technology leaders in the state. He also finds ideas from Linkedin and technology conferences.

Even if the end goal is to automate analysis—when data from different areas, such as attendance or behavior, is merged in ways that educators can easily access—selecting the right systems involves hands-on work.

“We want somebody who used a product, preferably somebody who has had it for a while, that can tell us their experiences and how the product fits into their flow and make sure their flow matches our flow and our needs,” Conrad says.

CIO as trainer-in-chief

cCreating ways for teachers and administrators to study multiple kinds of data has opened up the problem-solving potential of analytics, says Rich Boettner, chief technology officer at Hilliard City Schools in Ohio.

But it’s also created a new role for CIOs: trainer-in-chief.

It’s important to make sure educators who may not have a background in analytics can use the information in meaningful ways, Boettner says.

Spence, at Muskego-Norway schools, trains teachers, academic coaches and certified staff during summer breaks and throughout the school year in how to use data systems and understand the numbers. Before CIOs can plan training or make sure data is being used effectively, however, they also must have a deep understanding of the data and how it supports district goals, Boettner says.

Boettner points to several main sources for professional development for himself and his staff: product vendors; internet resources, local and state networks for technology leaders, and conferences like ISTE.

CIO as silo regulator

And finally, after administrators understand how different departments use data, such understanding can help reduce or eliminate the data silos that exist within many districts.

At Muskego-Norway schools, Spence relies on a building-by-building plan that outlines how each school site is working on the district’s continuous improvement goals and which data will be used to support which efforts.

The plan gives Spence a clear understanding of what data each department collects, so he can ensure the systems are kept timely and up-to-date.

“Without the data plan it would be stabbing in the dark,” Spence says. “Instead we have a very specific goal about where we need to be.”

Peer-Led Anti-Bullying Efforts Yield Payoffs

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No matter how diligent teachers and administrators are, it’s easy for bullying to happen under the noses of adults at school. In the bathrooms, the hallways, and on social media, students are often the only ones around to police themselves.
That’s why researchers at Princeton, Rutgers, and Yale universities are analyzing middle schoolers’ social networks to find the students most likely to change their classmates’ attitudes around bullying. They are finding that bullying is generally driven not by a few bad apples but by a majority of students within the overall culture of a school. Shifting alliances and cycles of harassment and retribution can all play into that culture, and undercut adults’ anti-bullying campaigns.

“Adult-identified leaders are often very different from student-identified leaders,” said Hana Shepherd, an assistant sociology professor at Rutgers University. “Adults look at traditionally defined ‘popular’ kids, the ‘good’ kids, while kids who are leaders of smaller groups might not be on the social radar of adults, but often are [influential] too.”

During the 2012-13, school year, Shepherd, Elizabeth L. Paluck, a Princeton psychology professor, and Peter M. Aronow of Yale University repeatedly surveyed more than 24,000 students across 56 middle schools about the students they respected most and liked spending time with online and in person, out of a list of every student in their schools. They also asked students to list peers they had conflicts with, and the social norms in each school around behaviors shown to increase conflict, such as retaliating on behalf of a friend who has been bullied.

Not Just ‘Popular’ Kids

The researchers used the data to create network maps of student friendships in each school, identifying not just the most popular students or those whom teachers considered leaders, but the students who are most influential to different peer groups throughout the school. Of those so-called “seed” students, the researchers randomly invited half to participate in the Roots program, an anti-bullying program intended to support students in recognizing and finding ways to improve their own school climate around bullying.

In a study published late last fall, the researchers found schools using Roots had 30 percent fewer discipline reports on student conflict than similar schools not using the program.

Through 10 sessions over the course of the 2012-13 school year, Paluck said a “breakfast club” of influential students in different cliques in each school met to think out their own responses to bullying and discuss ways to reduce peer conflicts. Even the wording mattered. Rather than discussing “bullying”—a term that prior research has shown is linked more with stereotypes of physical intimidation and lunch-money theft—the students typically referred to conflicts as “drama.” Students talked through exercises among themselves about how they would respond if they either saw or heard about conflicts among students.

Critically, the seed students also discussed how their peers would react to their responses, and how they could influence their classmates better. In each school, students came up with their own projects, such as creating positive GIFs, or looping animations, for Instagram or handing out wristbands to reward a student who is seen de-escalating a fight or supporting a bullying victim.

Teacher evaluations no longer required, but useful with changes

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The nonprofit New Teacher Center recommends using evaluations as a tool for improvement

Armed with research about a teacher’s impact on student achievement, policy makers have required states and school districts to evaluate their teaching force, and the most readily available data has been standardized test scores. Passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act effectively back-tracked on this accountability strategy. No longer is there a federal mandate that schools evaluate teachers. And those that do will not be required to base their analysis on scores.

But former superintendent, principal and teacher Lisa Andrejko does not believe such evaluations will become a thing of the past.

“With so much time and effort undertaken at the state level in the implementation of accountability measures such as Student Learning Objectives (SLOs), prescribed teaching standard frameworks or rubrics and student achievement data, I cannot imagine a scenario in which states would abandon their new methods for grading teachers,” Andrejko wrote for PeopleAdmin in May. She expects revisions, but not necessarily another overhaul.

Still, ESSA creates a level of freedom that some districts may find exciting. The law provides for the use of federal dollars to survey teachers about working conditions and offer professional development, professional growth and leadership opportunities. And, importantly, it offers an opportunity to recalibrate after the last 15 years of No Child Left Behind.
Anne Udall, executive vice president of program strategy at the nonprofit New Teacher Center, hopes district administrators stop and think carefully about where to take teacher evaluations in the coming years. NCLB attached accountability to test scores, primarily, and Udall says research clearly shows that is not a useful way to gauge educator effectiveness. “My hope with ESSA is that we’ve learned enough from what didn’t work that we’re going to try to find the more comprehensive, nuanced approach,” Udall said.

What, then, should this new approach entail?

Udall and Andrejko agree evaluations should be used to help teachers improve their craft. That means they have to come with more nuanced feedback and targeted professional development. While many advocates of test-based accountability demanded it to weed out the worst teachers, advocates of new teacher evaluation systems aim to use it as a tool for improvement.

How administrators can adapt

Administrators, in this new design, will need to sharpen a few skills of their own.

“You can know what great instruction looks like, but you may not have the skillset to mentor or coach a new teacher because you don’t know how to tell them what they’re doing well and what they’re doing poorly,” Udall said.
Professional development for administrators should cover strategies for recognizing high-quality instruction as well as providing useful feedback.

In many schools, even carving out the time for regular classroom observations will require a major shift. This is where district administrators come in. Central office leaders can provide the support that frees principals from other management duties, delegating administrative tasks to other staff members and leaving principals to focus on staff development.

One trend the New Teacher Center has identified is the formation of instructional leadership teams in schools. These groups bring together principals, vice principals, department chairs and teacher representatives into a learning community that focuses on how best to support teacher improvement, design evaluation systems and approach coaching

After years of watching evaluation be used as a tool to “sort and punish,” Udall is excited to see a new trend of using evaluations to support teacher growth.

A lot is still up in the air when it comes to ESSA. But as the Obama administration finalizes its rule-making and states decide how to proceed, school districts can set their own priorities for evaluation, at least. Now no longer required by federal law, it can provide the foundation for effective school improvement that focuses on bringing out the best in today’s teachers.

Tara Garcia Mathewson I September 14, 2016

New Bill Offers a Good Start on Defining Professional Development

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December 4, 2015 4:14 PM

Earlier this week, the House of Representatives passed the Every Student Succeeds Act by a 359-64 vote. While there is much to explore and discuss in the bill, Learning Forward’s advocacy efforts related to the reauthorization of ESEA have concentrated solely on professional development.

We believe that ensuring a clear and specific definition of professional development in federal policy, one that aligns with our Standards for Professional Learning, lays the groundwork for states, districts, and schools to create professional learning that has impact. The definition of professional development that appears in the bill is important because it applies to every example of professional development mentioned in the bill.

Overall, we are satisfied with the definition that is included in Every Student Succeeds Act, though we believe that effective professional learning requires more than what the bill describes.

We’re pleased with the first part of the definition. It begins: Professional development means activities that “(A) are an integral part of school and local education agency strategies for providing educators (including teachers, principals, other school leaders, specialized instructional support personnel, paraprofessionals, and, as applicable, early childhood educators) with the knowledge and skills necessary to enable students to succeed in the core academic subjects and to meet challenging State academic standards; and

(B) are sustained (not stand-alone, 1-day, and short-term workshops), intensive, collaborative, job-embedded, data-driven, classroom-focused….”

While there are additional ways to improve upon this part of the definition — it would be ideal to move away from thinking of professional development as “activities” rather than a continuous learning journey — it is affirming that the key words included within it tie directly to Learning Forward’s Standards for Professional Learning. Congress has affirmed that educators’ professional development must be collaborative, job-embedded, sustained, classroom-focused, and data-driven. The definition is also significant because it so clearly focused on school- and classroom-level professional learning.

The legislation continues with this phrase: Professional development “may include activities that …” followed by a long list of professional learning elements, experiences, and topics. For example, professional development may include activities that “improve and increase teachers’ knowledge of the academic subjects the teachers teach.”

The placement of the “may” is significant. Everything before “may include” is essential and officially part of the definition. Everything after “may include” is dependent on the context and needs of the local educators planning and implementing professional learning. To define professional learning too tightly would overlook the differentiated needs of educators and could contribute to schools and systems addressing adult learning through one-size-fits-all solutions. We trust educators to use the key words before the “may” to assess their needs and design their learning objectives and processes, then identify the priorities that best fit their circumstances among those listed after the “may.”

As education leaders and policymakers make sense of the bill once it moves into law, which is expected to happen next week, we are hopeful that in implementing the definition of professional development, they will also consider the following:

  • Evaluation of impact must be a part of any professional learning, as it is part of so many other school improvement elements outlined in the legislation.
  • The cycle of continuous improvement is the ideal vehicle for making so much of this definition come to life in schools. Through collaborative, continuous problem solving, teachers examine data to understand what student and adult learners need, set professional learning goals and determine learning strategies, apply their new learning with ongoing support, and assess the impact of what they’ve applied in their classrooms.
  • Clearly defining the professional learning roles and responsibilities of educators throughout the system helps ensure meaningful implementation and collective accountability for results.
  • While the definition of professional development in the bill describes that educators gain “knowledge and skills,” intentionally addressing changes in practice is essential to achieving better results for students.

Defining professional learning meaningfully in policy is one key step. But the definition doesn’t equate to implementation. The hard work of planning, facilitating, implementing, sustaining, and evaluating professional learning happens every day in states, districts, and schools.

As always, Learning Forward is eager to provide educators the support they need to create learning that meets this definition and aligns to the Standards for Professional Learning. Please let us know how we can continue to do so.

Stephanie Hirsh – Executive Director, Learning Forward

Teachers integrate technology into classrooms with help from ISU online master’s program

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ISU’s online Master of Education degree program in curriculum and instruction technology has helped 67 educators in the last decade to incorporate technology into their classroom. The online program is part of ISU’s School of Education, and offers the same curriculum as another on-campus program at the university.

“The growing use of technology in the schools was really picking up. We realized that we needed to make available professional development,” said Clyciane Kossatz Michelini, the program coordinator. “Technology is everywhere, most people use technology. But what is effective or a way to really make a difference in their teaching? We don’t want to get technology for the sake of technology. It has to be meaningful, has to be motivating the students, has to be making an impact while they’re teaching.”

The program is offered every two years, with the next cohort beginning next summer, and students are in the program for three years. Students learn about trending uses of technology in the classroom, how to teach courses online and, because most participants are already teachers, students get to conduct their research in their own classrooms.

One course is offered each semester, and Michelini said it makes it convenient for full-time teachers, as they are not required to be on campus for their coursework.

Denise Schmidt Crawford, an associate professor in the School of Education and director of the Center for Technology in Learning and Teaching, said students are asked to visit campus just twice a semester—once at the beginning of the program and once to present their final oral exam. Those who cannot attend are also able to use a video conference set-up to meet the requirement.+

Michelini noted that because the coursework is available online, the program has reached students even outside of the state, and working with teachers across the country has “really brought in another perspective.”Michelini said students leaving the program are entering new jobs that give them leadership roles in technology, and teachers are now “confident in what decisions they make and how they can help other teachers to step up and use more technology in a more effective way.”“Just because you have computers in the classroom, that doesn’t mean you’re making that better for the students,” Michelini said. “You have to really understand how to integrate that to the content and your teaching style and the way kids learn

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