Creating Lifelong Learners Through Digital Equity

Priscila Zigunovas
27/09/18
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Quick take: At DC Public Schools, blended learning has become an integral instructional practice utilized throughout the district to improve student experience.

Washington, D.C., United States

District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) operates 116 primary and secondary education institutions in the United States capital. With nearly 49,000 students and more than 4,000 teachers, DCPS has been investing in technology integration in the classroom and blended instruction to accelerate student learning, increase graduation rates, advance the lowest performing schools, and create lifelong learners.

Ensure that students reach their full potential through rigorous and joyful learning experiences provided in a nurturing environment: That is the mission of DCPS, where blended learning was first used in 2012, and is now seen as a key lever to reach their goals.

Six years ago, there were very few computers in the district’s schools and almost none where to be found inside the classrooms, especially at the elementary level, according to Dewayne J. McClary, director of Digital Learning & Innovation at DCPS.

DCPS’ initial goal was to provide a computer for every three students. This was accomplished in time for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) testing in 2015. The next goal is to provide a computer device to every student in grades K-12.

Photo Dewayne J. McClary, Director of Digital Learning & Innovation at District of Columbia Public Schools.
Dewayne J. McClary, Director of Digital Learning & Innovation at District of Columbia Public Schools.

“We understand that the iPad of today is the three-ring binder of yesterday. It does not replace the teacher; It is a tool the teacher uses to advance students and provide them with future-ready skills,says McClary, who manages large-scale educational technology projects within the district.

“Every student has access to a digital citizenship course. They also start receiving keyboarding training in kindergarten. By the time they reach middle school, they use a digital learning environment and Office 365 to complete assignments, communicate with teachers, and build their digital portfolios,” the director affirms.

Blended Learning

Over the past six years, DCPS has made a significant investment in blended learning as a key lever to accelerate student achievement, according to McClary. In turn, they have seen more and more schools meeting district-wide academic goals.

“Blended learning in District of Columbia Public Schools has moved beyond a 1.0 station-rotation model to include a robust portfolio of digital tools that empower both the teacher and learner to make gains in a flexible instructional model,” says McClary.

“Blended learning in District of Columbia Public Schools has moved beyond a 1.0 station-rotation model to include a robust portfolio of digital tools that empower both the teacher and learner to make gains in a flexible instructional model,” Dewayne McClary.

The director notes that while in the past blended learning was limited to adaptive literacy and math programs meant to fill gaps in knowledge, it now supports a student-centered instructional vision through a wide variety of digital classroom innovations, including productivity suites, multimedia online textbooks, numerous and varied digital content programs, digital learning environment courses, and even a blogging platform.

“We have seen success and areas of growth across the board. Successes include teachers managing and organizing courses within our learning management system, and students using productivity suites to create, share, and collaborate on authentic work products,” explains McClary.

In addition, more teachers are regularly incorporating digital content into instructional planning and delivery because of the ongoing collaboration with the Digital Learning & Innovation and Content teams, aligning standards and units to the modules within the digital content so that the blended learning software is not viewed as a separate and additional task.

McClary shares that an ongoing area of growth is consistently building teacher knowledge in utilizing their classroom data available from digital content to inform instruction.

“Through piloting new programs and adapting them based on feedback and data, blended learning has become an integral instructional practice utilized throughout the district to accelerate learning, measure student achievement, and meet academic goals.”

A Capital Commitment

In 2017, DCPS released a five-year strategic plan called ‘A Capital Commitment,’ developed with the participation of 4,500 students, parents, educators, and community members. The plan established goals and strategic priorities for the period 2017-2022.

DCPS’ 2017-2022 Strategic Plan1 

Priorities

Promote Equity: Define, understand, and promote equity to eliminate opportunity gaps and systematically interrupt institutional bias.

Ensure Excellent Schools: Increase the number of excellent schools throughout the city.

Empower the People: Recruit, develop, and retain a talented, caring, and diverse team.

Educate the Whole Child: Provide rigorous, joyful, and inclusive academic and social emotional learning experiences to ensure all students are college and career ready.

Engage Families: Ensure communication and deepen partnerships with families and the community.

Goals

1. Double the percentage of students who are college and career ready, and triple the percentage of at-risk and students of color who are college and career ready.

2. 100% of K-2 students reading on or above grade level.

3. 85% of students graduating within four years; and 90 percent graduating within four or five years.

4. 100% of students feeling loved, challenged, and prepared.

5. 100% of schools highly rated or improving.

6. 90% of students re-enrolling and DCPS serving 54,000 students.

Enable students to learn at their own pace with blended learning.

The strategic plan highlights equity as one of the core values at District of Columbia Public Schools. In order to meet the educational needs of each student, the use of technology combined with teaching excellence allows students to learn at their own pace.

“Technology also provides deep and granular data that helps guide the teacher in understanding student gaps. A teacher can pull up a report and see precisely what type of support the student needs,” says McClary.

Parents receive reports to show how they can best support students at home, and students themselves become more engaged and empowered to track their own instruction, according to the director.

“Students see their personal goals and work hard to meet them. Much of the PARCC progress we’ve seen over the past few years occurs in schools using technology-infused instruction. Students have progressed two to three years in many cases. Over time, our students have increased proficiency,” says McClary.

Digital Equity

A condition in which all individuals and communities have the information technology capacity needed for full participation in our society, democracy and economy.  Digital Equity is necessary for civic and cultural participation, employment, lifelong learning, and access to essential services.2

Training the Trainers

At DCPS, a combination of training tools has helped teachers comfortably integrate technology into classroom instruction.

For instance, the district collaborated with City Bridge Foundation to allow fellows to participate in a year-long Innovative Learning program, where teachers learn and share their new expertise with others.

“This program and other similar ones have provided a ‘train the trainer’ model,” says McClary.

In addition, the Digital Learning & Innovation team conducts an annual tech conference called iDC Institute. Teachers, coaches, and school leaders come together for two to three days of hands-on tech learning.

The Institute focuses on Office 365, training with individual digital curricular providers, and technology integration principles. It also promotes idea sharing between teachers.

“Lastly, site-based training and coaching occurs continually throughout the year. We remain flexible and responsive to schools’ needs. One school may request in-class modeling or work with students; Another school may meet with coaches and trainers in grade bands so they can delve into student data and program intricacies,” McClary explains.

DCPS now also wants to increase the summer tech camp to a full week, allowing teachers to be paid so they don’t lose vacation time for attending. They also want to have a full-time technology instructional coach embedded in each school.

“With this capacity, all teachers will have access to continual innovative teaching resources,” McClary concludes.

Customer snapshot

Shaping Educators Through Professional Development

Dewayne J. McClary, Director of Digital Learning & Innovation at District of Columbia Public Schools. 

Sources:

1 District of Columbia Public Schools. (n.d.). A Capital Commitment: 2017-2022. Retrieved August 17, 2018, from https://dcps.dc.gov/capitalcommitment.

2 National Digital Inclusion Alliance. (2017, March 31). Definitions. Retrieved August 16, 2018, from https://www.digitalinclusion.org/definitions.

Photos:

AFP Tasos Katopodis

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