Four Statewide EdTech Rollouts: What Works in Public Education

By: Dr. Karen Beerer

Even now—nine years removed from a career in public education that included service as a classroom teacher, a principal, and an assistant superintendent— the beginning of a new school year brings a spring to my step. For me, the commencement of a new school year is a time of reflection during which I can look back on the previous year with a critical eye and think about what I could do differently in the future to better serve my students.

This year, my tendency for reflection is stronger than ever. I now serve as the Senior Vice President of Teaching and Learning at Discovery Education, and like many teachers and school administrators, am still processing the unprecedented 2020-2021 school year. Given that a large part of my role is focused on managing Discovery Education’s partnerships with State Departments of Education, I have looked there to learn more about what works in public education and how those lessons can be applied in school systems nationwide.

My first significant learning comes from the state of Nevada. Last year, the state partnered with Nevada Gold Mines to ensure public school educators and students in grades K-12 statewide receive access to an award-winning daily learning platform for teaching, creating, and growing professionally.

This unique partnership sets a new standard for public-private partnerships in education. In this instance, a corporation with a mission to support the students of today as they prepare for the opportunities of tomorrow aligned with the state government to fund access to high-quality digital resources. The collaboration between a corporate partner committed to the success of the state’s students and the Nevada Department of Education provides school systems a meaningful template that can be replicated in districts nationwide.

Through Discovery Education’s work with the Arizona Department of Education, I have experienced firsthand the importance and value of scaling and implementing a multifaceted professional learning initiative. The Arizona Department of Education (AZED) spent a significant portion of its federal relief funds to prepare students, teachers, and families for the return to classroom instruction.

While Discovery Education is supporting that effort by providing access to our K-12 platform, AZED is partnering with universities to provide professional learning to teachers across the state. The professional learning opportunities range from supporting teaching in schools serving Navajo students to providing all educators no-cost professional development that advances digital teaching and learning skills, to expanding capacity for the Arizona K-12 Center’s educator mentoring program. AZED’s efforts are a textbook case of how to pair any major educational initiative with professional learning to ensure a successful and effective implementation.

Through Discovery Education’s work with the South Carolina Department of Education (SC DOE), I have had the opportunity to witness the importance of leadership in improving equity. Understanding that not all students and teachers in the state have access to high-quality, standards-aligned content, ready-to-use digital lessons, and professional learning resources, the SC DOE undertook an effort to rectify the situation. By purchasing four Learning Management Systems, a Learning Object Repository, and a suite of standards-based digital learning resources, every student and educator in South Carolina now has full access to high-quality, standards-aligned content, ready-to-use digital lessons, and professional learning resources no matter their location or learning environment.

While South Carolina’s school systems have made significant efforts to provide all students access to dynamic digital resources, the SC DOE has chosen to lead efforts to level the playing field for all students. Through their leadership, the SC DOE has provided an example for improving instructional equity that can be followed by all school systems.

Finally, the State Department of Education in New Hampshire (NH DOE) offers another great lesson on what works in public education. As the NH DOE creates plans to support school systems in what will be an uncertain school year, they have provided stakeholders with clear communications outlining their direction. An example of this was seen recently when the state announced a new partnership providing educators and students statewide a digital daily learning platform through the state’s Canvas Learning Management System.

Communication is often at the heart of many challenges in any size school system, particularly when it comes to new implementations. However, the NH DOE was clearly thoughtful about the timing of their message and chose to share the announcement of their new initiative during their annual, in-person conference. This allowed the relevant stakeholders to see what they were getting, ask questions about its use, and network together to understand the specifics of the implementation.

Following their initial announcement, virtual launch events for curriculum leads and principals across the state were held. The NH DOE has also prioritized continuing to communicate news and updates surrounding this initiative throughout the months leading up to the opening of the school year, as they demonstrate their understanding that there is no such thing as overcommunication.

Over the last several months, Nevada, Arizona, South Carolina, and New Hampshire have taken a leadership role in scaling the use of digital resources statewide. While each implementation has varied its approaches to public/private partnerships, scaling professional learning, improving equity, and communicating change, each has provided shining examples of what works in public education.

In these challenging times, school systems would be well served to look at their unique approaches to improving public education and emulate the work of these outstanding state departments of education as appropriate in their own communities.

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Dr. Karen Beerer is the Senior Vice President of Teaching and Learning for Discovery Education. Dr. Beerer has more than 35 years of experience in education. She began her career as a classroom teacher. Dr. Beerer served as a reading specialist and an elementary principal as well as a Supervisor of Curriculum and Professional Development. In her last role, she was the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment in the Boyertown Area School District (PA) for 8 years.

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