L.A. Unified School District finds success in new ISTE standards


DENVER – Los Angeles Unified School District is on a new technology track.

A few years after a botched iPad rollout to 600,000 students to the tune of $1.3 billion, LAUSD has charted a refocused strategy that revolves around instructional design rather than devices, and has become the first district in the country to adopt the new ISTE Standards for Students. The guidelines, officially unveiled at the ISTE conference here, provide updated and revised guidelines for incorporating technology into classrooms.

“We looked at the ISTE Standards, and said, ‘This is a direct mirror for what we want for our students,'” Frances Gipson, chief academic officer, told EdScoop during an interview here.

Before, she said, “There was a perception that it was about the tool – if you got the tool in your hands, it would change the world. But tools aren’t the only mediator of thinking and learning in the classroom.”

Gipson said the district is learning from past mistakes. In 2015, then-Superintendent Ramon Cortines started an instructional technology taskforce with nearly 100 stakeholders that he asked Gipson to chair. She came on board in November.

“We wanted to focus on curriculum and pedagogy,” she said. “We came back to the themes of computational skills, and making sure our students have that productive struggle. We said, ‘This is about instructional vision.’ You put kids in the center and design backwards from that.”

They found common principles in the new ISTE Standards, which were last updated in 2007. The new standards support a “learner-driven” approach, according to officials, and provide a blueprint for educators to make sure students are at the center of a shift to technology in the classroom.

“The 2016 ISTE Standards for Students are about amplifying learning and empowering the student voice,” said Brian Lewis, CEO of ISTE. “These standards apply globally and can be adopted no matter where educators are on their paths to the thoughtful integration of ed tech.”

[Read more of this week’s coverage from ISTE 2016.]

Gipson said the older version of the standards was not aligned with the district’s approach, but now, since the standards address topics like computational thinking and digital citizenship, they offer a more useful framework. LAUSD officials made recommendations on June 14, and shortly after, they formally adopted the new standards.

“We had been looking at older sets of standards for a while, but …they were designed for when people were getting laptop carts into classrooms. We have 3D anatomy labs now,” she said.

Gipson said it was important to stay current, since technology tools and trends shift and update about every two years. Just two weeks ago, more than 1,000 LAUSD teachers received devices with the Schoology learning management system installed, along with access to a wide array of instructional resources. The system also allows them to communicate easily with students, as well as with parents.

Gipson, who took on her role just last November, said the district now takes an agnostic approach to devices, and testing out different models to see what works.

“Students are currently not bringing in their own devices,” she said. “Part of that is, we’re still studying a lot of issues around equity and access.”

But, she emphasized, it’s not about the devices, but rather the instructional models and designs that fuel the learning.

“There is a lot of complexity to [the standards],” she said. “It’s inspiring to teachers to see that it’s about having our students be producers and consumers, and using technology isn’t just for the technology teacher or the computer lab.”

Reach the reporter at corinne.lestch@edscoop.com and follow her on Twitter @clestch and @edscoop_news.