Good Schools For All by Voice of San Diego

Good Schools for All is a podcast about education. Hosts Scott Lewis and Laura Kohn from the Education Synergy Alliance cut through the jargon and debate to get to the news and ideas that matter. Good schools are at the heart of our democracy and economy. We are about good schools for all kids.
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Good Schools For All by Voice of San Diego


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Apr 21, 2016

Education technology is exploding. This week in San Diego some of the major players in technology companies, their investors and education leaders gathered in San Diego for the ASU GSV Summit to talk about disrupting classrooms. We grabbed one of the attendees on his way to the talks.

Tom Vander Ark, CEO of Getting Smart, an organization that advocates for innovations in learning, joins the podcast to talk about how technology is increasingly entering and improving the educational system.

He said the dubbed EdTech movement is finally ready for real, widespread implementation in schools across the world.

"That revolution started 20 years ago but we're finally beginning to understand how to incorporate all these new tools into schools," he said. "Both in K-12 and higher ed."

An example is the adaptive learning approach, he said, which uses computers or tablets and game-like software that, with just a few initial questions, understands a student's reading or math level then adjusts and makes follow-up questions harder or easier. The software also uses engaging graphics and makes the experience fun to keep students interested.

The result is a personalized learning experience for students and real-time data for teachers and parents who can easily track a child's progress and adjust accordingly. The ability to offer effective personalized learning makes the current obsession with making sure students are at the appropriate grade level in every subject seem outmoded.

The technological future of education Vander Ark describes sounds dreamy, but there's one big problem.

"The future is here – it's just not very evenly distributed," he said, quoting cyberpunk sci-fi author William Ford Gibson.

Not all schools are progressing at the same pace when it comes to using technology, Vander Ark said, and even when school districts do bring tech into classrooms, merely replacing textbooks with laptops isn't enough – there needs to be an entire tech ecosystem, which includes smart software, data tracking and innovative teaching techniques.

"That's the big challenge and a big reason progress has been relatively uneven," he said.

Also on this week’s podcast, co-hosts Scott Lewis and Laura Kohn talk about a recent parenting win, the seductive attraction of the project-based learning approach used by schools like High Tech High and the uptick in private startups looking to invest in education technology for public schools.

Number of the Week

4 percent: That's the projected proportion of private capital that's expected to be invested in education technology in the next decade. Right now, the number's just .4 percent, so that's a 10-fold increase in the next 10 years.

What’s Working

TEDxKids@ElCajon: Organized by the Cajon Valley Union School District, the annual event helps kids find what's unique and special about them and asks them to present to their community. Students from kindergarten through high school participate and it's become a successful, student-centric event.

Mar 31, 2016

You might not have any idea what the California State Board of Education does. I didn't.

That is, until we talked to Trish Boyd Williams, a member of the board.

Williams lives in San Diego and has a major role on the board and she explained it to me for the latest episode of Good Schools for All.

It was that board, of course, that is the reason Common Core was adopted in California so we took the opportunity to break down how it's going and how the board determines its standards. My co-host Laura Kohn was screaming at the TV during a recent Republican presidential debate as they went on about Common Core. Take a listen to hear what she says they got wrong.

Williams said it's having a major impact in the state.

"What’s different about the Common Core state standards in English, Language Arts and Math over the previous standards in English and Math is that it shifts the focus. There’s less memorization of isolated facts, and there is more focus on bigger ideas, and on discussion, analysis, arguing from evidence, and critical thinking skills," Williams said.

Williams is also spearheading the adoption of new science standards for schools.

What’s Working:

Devin Vodicka, the Superintendent of the Vista Unified School District, and was named Superintendent of the year by the California Association of School Administrators in 2015. Devon and his team are making thoughtful but ambitious changes in the schooling system. They are working from a “blueprint for educational excellence,” and are creating a very positive impact.

Numbers of the Week:

The achievement gap refers to the difference in educational achievement between different races or demographics. 72% of Asian students read at grade level last Spring, and only 30% of black students did. In 8th grade math, 73% of Asians students met grade level standards, and only 22% of black students did.

Mar 24, 2016

I've always sensed a disconnect between school and life. For my own life, I came to understand it as a kind of convergence of lines — school is one of the lines, and if you follow it long enough and well enough, it will eventually converge with life and propel you forward.

In his film "Most Likely to Succeed," Greg Whiteley approaches the disconnect differently. As he tries to demonstrate in the film, the school line not only doesn't converge with the life line but is harmfully off track. Standardized tests and the so-called Prussian Method of education, where each subject — reading, math, social studies and science — is taught separately and aimed at building a base level of knowledge for everyone.

The movie centers on San Diego's High Tech High and its project-based teaching approach.

Whiteley is the filmmaker behind the critically acclaimed documentary "Mitt," an inside look with exclusive access to Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. It turns out Whiteley and his wife and children live in Point Loma, and he dropped by for an interview with Laura Kohn and me for the latest episode of Good Schools for All.

If you enjoy the show, please consider searching for it on iTunes and rating it.

Number of the Week

503,848: That's the number of students enrolled in public school in San Diego County. That’s more students than 20 other states.

What Is Working

Del Lago Academy: A 3-year-old high school in the Escondido district that focuses on biomedical and health sciences for students. They use project- and work-based learning, integrate technology and are a great example of a school system that is delivering innovative and inspiring education for children in a non-traditional way.

Mentioned in the Show

Mar 15, 2016

Studies have shown that the first five years are the time that will define a child’s ability to constantly learn throughout the rest of their life. When children learn a lot and frequently at an early age, it lays down patterns in their brain that will continue to be repeated throughout their life, allowing them to learn more and more. This is why that time of life is so important.

Professor Heckman recently published results that at-risk children who don’t get high quality early childhood experiences are 25% more likely to drop out of school, 40% more likely to become teen parents, and 60% less likely to attend college.

Not only is this time pivotal in a child’s life, but the average cost of education between ages 0-5 is actually nearly the same as the amount spent on a child’s college education. But at that age, parents have had a lot more time to save for the expense, whereas parents of preschool-aged children are often caught off guard by the expense.

San Diego, and California in general, has done a lot to make federal aid available to the lowest income-bracket, but there are significant financial challenges to those upper-low income and middle range families that are looking to give their children the best possible start in the pivotal moment of their lives, and to make sure that there isn’t an achievement gap when children start kindergarten.


Number of the week:

$359: What San Diego County is investing in each zero, one, or two year old child. In contrast, we’re investing over $9,400 in every school age child, 6-12.


What is Working:

Educational enrichment systems: A non-profit provider of preschool and other early childhood programs for 1,100 kids across San Diego County, serving as a network of preschools.


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