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Putting It All Together: Digital Learning in Klein ISD, Houston, Texas

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March 08, 2012 08:57 pm


putting it all
If you watched any of the morning webcast or National Town Hall from Digital Learning Day, you saw Klein Independent School District in action. Klein is located just outside Houston and has been working to incorporate technology into learning for over a decade. I had the chance to see Klein for myself as part of the National School Board Association’s (NSBA) Technology Leadership Network site visit.

I had the chance to see five schools as well as their digital athletic field and the network operations center. The athletic field includes state-of-the-art technology, such as systems for measuring results in track and field, mechanisms to provide athletes with feedback, high-tech security camera systems, and a state-of-the-art conference center. It even includes systems for taking video that allow coaches to directly download and store video on central drives rather than lugging disks and tapes around. The most impressive thing about Klein ISD is how they have made the goals of education reform a reality. Standards with a thorough scope and sequence, performance rubrics, and objectives are clearly articulated both in their online curriculum and on the walls in every classroom I visited.

They have succeeded in elevating the teaching profession: teachers are truly instructional designers who are engaged with their students and who are also constantly engaged in improving their craft. They are making progress in closing achievement gaps and achieving success with many at-risk students. The fact that they are using technology to achieve many of these goals is just one small part of their whole-school, system wide focus on improvement.

putting it all2Here at the Alliance, our goal is to ensure that every student graduates from high school career and college ready. In Klein, I saw two high school programs that are working hard to make that goal a reality. The Vistas High School Program is not technically a school; it is a program, but it provides a small-school atmosphere and a highly personalized approach to learning. The school is part of Klein’s 1:1 laptop initiative, and technology is integrated into every lesson.

One teacher explained that an added benefit of the laptops for students who had previously failed out of courses in their other schooling experiences was the portability of the laptops: “They don’t lose their homework, they don’t forget their textbook, they don’t forget the assignment – it’s all in the laptop.” Vistas graduates students every nine weeks, and every student produces a video describing their experience at the program. I urge you to watch just a few.

A completely different high school experience was presented to the NSBA group at Klein Forest High School. With over 3,500 students, the school is gigantic, but is divided into “houses” to make learning more personalized for students. But that’s just the structure. Again, the 1:1 laptops are everywhere, as are interactive white boards and other technologies. What struck me the most about Klein Forest was how hard the students were working – they were fully engaged in their work and there was no time for staring off into space or goofing off. The work required the students to get actively involved in their work.

I was also struck by the fact that none of the fears that are voiced about digital learning – the laptops will break or get stolen, online harassment, learning how to use the technology –were even on the radar screens as concerns. The focus is entirely on the student learning.  Klein has been working at this for ten years, so they’ve had time to work out the kinks, and students and teachers alike say they can’t imagine learning without the digital tools they now have at their disposal.

Klein staff are quick to tell visitors that they do not draw a causal relationship between their technology adoption and student outcomes. In fact, the technology really is just one part of a systemwide effort that includes curriculum development, teacher professional development, opening many new schools as the district grew, and much more. But overall, they are seeing student outcomes to be proud of.

Klein has seen increases across the board in student performance on their statewide testing system, the TAKS. The graph below indicates the number of students meeting the standard in all grades in reading and math.

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Klein has also seen increases in the number of college ready graduates, which combines data from SAT, ACT and TAKS. Statewide, the average was 60 percent.

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Check out the videos of Klein at to see Klein in action!

Terri Duggan Schwartzbeck is the Senior Policy Associate at the Alliance for Excellent Education.

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