If you search for a picture of a classroom from 1915 or even 1890, chances are it looks a lot like your child’s classroom today. There are children at desks facing forward with the teacher at the front of the classroom providing information to the students. Perhaps there is a Smart Board at the front of the classroom instead of a chalkboard and a computer or two on one wall instead of a set of encyclopedias and other reference materials, but the basics of how we teach children really haven’t changed in the last 100 or even 125 years. We are using 21st century tools in a 19th century learning environment.

While US Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s announcement of a set of rights that all families should have for their children’s education drew national attention, the panel discussion he participated in prior to his speech focused on an issue that is much more immediate for every child in school: technology in education.

The panel was moderated by Jenny Backus, Google’s head of Strategic Outreach, Partnerships, and Engagement. Joining her on the panel in addition to Secretary Duncan were Thomas Murray from the Alliance for Excellent Education and Mark Edwards, the AASA 2013 Superintendent of the Year from Mooresville Graded School District in Mooresville, NC. The panel discussion was supplemented with a presentation from Mr. Murray on Future Ready Schools.

Members of the panel stressed that it is not enough to put technology in the classroom. A Smart Board at the front of a classroom used simply as a digital blackboard to drill facts into the heads of students will not improve student achievement nor prepare them for college and careers. Schools need to be leveraging technology to teach students to question, research, hypothesize, collaborate, and think critically, not just to serve as digital chalkboards and textbooks.

Information has become a commodity. If a student needs to know the capital of South Sudan or the year that World War I started, the answer is a quick web search away. What the web can’t teach them, however, is how the events of World War I still resonate in today’s world or what the creation of the world’s newest country means for Africa. For that we need teachers focused on teaching critical thinking and problem solving skills.


Future Ready Schools

Towards that end, the Alliance for Excellent Education and the US Department of Education have partnered to create Future Ready Schools. Rather than promoting a specific program or approach, Future Ready Schools is aimed at having each school district come together to discuss their vision for student learning in the 21st century and how to use digital technology effectively. The key components of a Future Ready School are:

  • R: Robust, Rigorous Resources
  • E: Engaged Students with Equitable Access
  • A: Active Parents for Deeper Engagemen
  • D: Dedicated Educators
  • Y: “Yes Culture” of Leadership

Gurnee District 56 has created a video to show how they are READY.

The process starts for a school district with the superintendent taking the Future Ready Schools Pledge. An online tool allows you to find out if your superintendent is one of nearly 2,000 across the country who have already taken the pledge. By taking the pledge, a superintendent commits their district to become Future Ready by engaging in a range of activities such as:

  • Fostering and Leading a Culture of Digital Learning within Our Schools.
  • Helping Schools and Families Transition to High-speed Connectivity.
  • Empowering Educators through Professional Learning Opportunities.
  • Accelerating Progress Toward Universal Access for All Students to Quality Devices.
  • Providing Access to Quality Digital Content.
  • Offering Digital Tools to Help Students and Families #ReachHigher.
  • Mentoring Other Districts and Helping Them Transition to Digital Learning.


Beyond the Pledge

Once a superintendent takes the Future Ready Schools Pledge, the district can take advantage of regional summits to develop a thoughtful plan on how technology can be used to improve student learning. Even if a district cannot attend a summit, they will have access to the Future Ready Leadership Network. This free online resource will provide districts with tools such as:

  • a Future Ready assessment and report with specific pathways toward progress,
  • an interactive planning dashboard [Note: to access a sample version, use e-mail address of sample@metiri.com and password “sample”.] to help districts analyze and report their own team’s progress,
  • a community of mentoring districts,
  • ongoing webinars and expert advisory chats, and
  • exemplars and snap shots of success.


The Challenge for PTAs

Simply purchasing computers, tablets, Smart Boards, or other technology for the classroom, as many PTAs have done in the past, has not been an effective way of improving student achievement. School districts need to consider and evaluate how students will use technology in the classroom, and PTAs should be the voice of parents in that conversation. Once the technology is in the classroom, it is even more important that teachers and administrators not only know how to use that technology but also receive continuing professional development on best practices from across the country to effectively use that technology to prepare students for college and careers. PTAs, like the schools and districts that they serve, need to shift their focus from actions taken for students to successful outcomes of those students.