Putting California’s School Districts on the Path Toward Meaningful Digital Learning
August 25, 2015 04:08 pm
The following is a guest blog post from Devin Vodicka, superintendent of Vista Unified School District (Vista, CA) and Gabe Soumakian is superintendent of Oxnard Union High School District (Oxnard, CA).
Technology has revolutionized nearly every aspect of life, but its potential to improve academic outcomes and equalize educational opportunities for all students remains largely untapped. Implementing technology appropriately in schools, however, takes more than simply purchasing laptops or tablets for every student. That’s why superintendents from more than forty-five school districts in the region converged on Southern California earlier this month for a “Future Ready Schools” summit.
Our school districts are joining with thousands nationwide in embracing technology—but not without a plan for maximizing its impact on student learning. Delivering on technology’s potential in the classroom requires thoughtful planning, preparation, and training for teachers about how to integrate new digital tools into their instruction; community outreach to build support for new types of teaching and learning; and district- and school-level leadership to advocate for the benefits digital learning can offer.
When implemented properly, technology can improve engagement and learning outcomes for all students. In Vista Unified School District, suspensions due to disciplinary incidents have decreased 71 percent and expulsions have dropped 86 percent over a six-year period. As students stay in school and focus on learning, they are accessing higher-level courses and graduating better prepared for college and a career. In just three years, Vista Unified has seen a 57 percent increase in the number of students enrolling in one or more rigorous Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses and the passage rates on challenging end-of-course tests remain steady. Improvements are particularly pronounced for English language learners and students with special needs whose learning opportunities have been expanded through access to digital resources.
The Oxnard Union High School District developed a vision for personalized learning that empowers students to design and take ownership of their learning in the pursuit of college, career, and life readiness. Technology is one component of the transformation, but equally important are enhanced collaboration tools that allow teachers to learn from and work with each other. The district’s Linked Learning Academy model provides rigorous and relevant real-world learning experiences for students. To address student technology equity, Oxnard Union is launching a one-to-one student laptop initiative for targeted cohorts of English learners, foster youth, students from low-income families, and special education students. This strategy, coupled with providing students access to technology in the classroom and offering comprehensive professional development for teachers, makes digital content accessible to students anytime and anywhere.
Future Ready Schools, part of a national effort led by the Alliance for Excellent Education and the U.S. Department of Education, provides school districts with resources to ensure that their technology and digital learning plans align with instructional best practices, are implemented by highly trained teachers, and lead to personalized learning experiences for all students, particularly those from traditionally underserved communities. Future Ready Schools have empowered teachers and leaders, students who take charge of their learning, and tools that support a more personalized approach to ensuring college and career readiness for all students.
During the Future Ready Schools summit, which Vista Unified and Oxnard Union were honored to cohost, superintendents explored the Future Ready Interactive Planning Dashboard, a free online tool that allows districts to assess their readiness for transitioning to digital learning; evaluate specific needs; and receive customized strategies and free resources to address these needs. Vista Unified has already used the planning dashboard to inform plans to personalize its professional development experiences and expand its efforts related to competency-based models where students can proceed at their own pace.
Nationwide, more than 1,950 school district superintendents have taken the Future Ready District Pledge—a promise to personalize learning for students through a systemic digital transformation. We are among them. We hope that other school districts—in Southern California and nationwide—will join us and declare themselves “Future Ready,” providing all students—regardless of their background, zip code, or socioeconomic status—the resources and quality instruction necessary for success in the digital age.