David Rose, the deputy chief of the Office of Educational Technology & Library Programs at the District of Columbia Public Schools, has a lot on his plate right now. Technology use in DCPS schools has surged. Every school has some form of blended learning model, where students spend part of their day receiving online instruction. And every school has a minimum of one device for every three students.
Rose, who spent about seven years as a teacher in North Carolina before eventually moving to the Office of Teaching and Learning at DCPS, is in charge of scaling the programs as he sees more gains in achievement. His office has grown from two people, since he started about four years ago, to 11 employees helping to integrate technology in schools. He took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to do a phone Q&A with EdScoop.
Editor’s Note: The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.
EdScoop: How is DCPS using technology and blended learning in schools, and how has that evolved over time?
David Rose: Prior to 2011, we had pockets of innovation going on in the district. Some individual teachers and schools were doing some great things with different programs and software, but we didn’t have a dedicated central staff, no vision on the part of the district and very limited data collection to see which programs that were actually getting the results we needed to see. Then we were able to obtain a grant from Google to start a blended learning team in my office to start pulling together a district vision. We reviewed hundreds of pieces of academic software that are out there. And we didn’t believe at the time that one software was going to be the silver bullet for all of our students — what may be great for fifth grade might not work for fourth grade. So we established a portfolio of blended learning software to help increase the rate of student success.
ES: What are some of the programs and software D.C. public schools are using?
DR: We have started some and ended some. Some of the most successful software — ST Math is a math software that works with spatial-temporal reasoning that we have scaled across our schools because we’ve seen great tremendous success with it. Lexia Learning is a reading program that we’ve seen a lot of success with. I think it’s important to note that we had identified other software in our portfolio that we discontinued after two or three years because it was not giving us that rate of return we wanted to see. It’s constant data monitoring to make sure it’s reaching the students. Now we’re cutting the data to see which students a particular software may be best for — maybe something could work for students below basic, but it doesn’t help students that are proficient.
ES: How has professional development changed to keep up to date with changing models of instruction?
DR: We talk about, what is blended learning and how does it fit into the instructional model? And then we let [teachers] look at different pieces of software and select what might be best for their students. They start receiving that professional development early on: ‘How do I group my students? What are the routines? How do I set up a classroom?’ So a lot of times, they’ll do a soft launch in the spring to get ready for the fall, but it’s continued professional development. It’s software professional development from the vendor, but much more than that, around implementing good technology and using it appropriately.
ES: Do you provide devices to students?
DR: We provide devices in the schools. In station rotation models, there’s typically five to eight devices — laptops or desktops — in the classroom to rotate through, depending on the size of the class. We are not sending devices home at this point.
ES: Why not?
DR: It’s a variety of different reasons. Although the city hasn’t done a comprehensive survey to understand how many students are connected outside of the school day, we see that program usage is continuing after the school day. So we know these students are using these programs, whether on their smart devices or at the library. But for comprehensive, one-to-one programs, there are many things we have to consider, and student safety is No. 1. Saying, “We’re an urban school district” is not an excuse, but our students are on public transportation day in and day out, wearing their school uniforms. So if students at McKinley [Technology Education Campus] are known to carry laptops home, there’s a concern being a target. So we have to think through those things before we jump into it and be very purposeful, and not just do a one-to-one program to say D.C. is doing it.
ES: What are you doing with things like textbooks and libraries, which may be thought of as somewhat passé nowadays?
DR: We would disagree saying that libraries are passé. We have actually started revitalizing our school library program after decades of decline, and that includes staffing, millions of dollars in both print and digital materials and resetting expectations of what a librarian is today. A librarian is collaborating with classroom teachers, working on information fluency, critical-thinking and problem-solving skills for students. We’re also looking at makerspaces. We have a few librarians who have makerspaces in their libraries, like Takoma [Education Campus, Pre-K-8th grade]. And we’ve been working with the White House to expand makerspaces in our schools, particularly middle schools. Certainly sparking creativity is just as important in high school as it is in elementary school.
We are looking to identify more digital textbooks rather than print, especially in those areas that we know the information is outdated. A good example of that is Discovery Education’s Techbook. Last year, we had that in eight of our secondary classrooms in science and social studies. This year we’re expanding to 30 classrooms. Students are really able to interact with it, from videos to clicking and learning more about a particular topic, to being able to annotate and submit assignments.
ES: How do you decide which schools use technology, blended learning or station rotation models, and which do not?
DR: There are several different factors we look at. One is, you have to make sure the school is ready with the infrastructure. With our modernizations, we’re pretty well-situated with that. And then you have to have a strong leadership in the school that has a vision for [technology] use and set expectations. And the teachers have to be on board, too. When we implemented three years ago Teach to One, a blended math model that was initially launched in New York City, we brought it to Hart Middle School. Before we selected Hart, we identified a handful of middle schools and went to the teachers and said, ‘This is what it would mean for your math program.’ And we had some schools that said, ‘We’re not quite ready for that.’ And we didn’t force it on the school. It has to be an organic approach.
ES: What do you want DCPS classrooms to look like in 10 years?
DR: If we’re preparing our students for college and career, I think our classrooms have to look like college and career. So the same technology skills that students need in college and career, they need to be doing day in and day out in our classrooms. Students may be using technology, or they’re collaborating with their peers, or collaborating with someone on a project on the other side of the world. It’s a great opportunity to use Cornerstones as a vehicle to make sure our students are tech-literate by integrating technology into these assignments.