Dynamic Learning Project, ESSA Evidence Regs

Google just doesn’t quit, with a new demonstration of its commitment to the education market, Google and Digital Promise have announced a new partnership—the Dynamic Learning Project—that will address the what the organizations describe as an emerging “second level digital divide” which is created by major differences in the ways teachers and students use technology. Some of you will have been around long enough to remember concerns in the initial movement of computers into classrooms. It was entirely too common to see poor students in low-performing schools doing a lot of drill and practice, while their better-off counterparts in high-performing schools were learning to use productivity tools and being set tasks that allowed them to use computers in more open-ended and creative ways. Today we would talk about using technology to support a hands-on, collaborative approach to learning—student-centered and focused on critical thinking, inquiry and research—as opposed to mere test prep or skill development.

The Dynamic Learning Project will support teachers by providing classroom coaching to help them use the technology in their classrooms in more powerful and meaningful ways. The project will work with 50 underserved schools in Alabama, California, South Carolina, Pennsylvania and Texas, selected by Digital Promise based on need (measured by percentage of students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch), existing infrastructure, and innovative leadership committed to helping their teachers succeed. The project will provide each school with full-time coaches, mentoring and ongoing professional development. Each school will also participate in a community of practice.

Google is giving Digital Promise a $6.5 million grant through Google.org to launch the program. EdTechTeam, a global network of education technologists, will lead the coaching program. Digital Promise will monitor and evaluate the project’s implementation and execution. The research goal here is to understand the conditions necessary for coaching to effectively foster powerful use of technology for instruction.

This project should be a boon to participating schools and Digital Promise will produce solid research that also highlights the practicalities of what they learn. Coaching has been shown to have promise, but I think many districts would be challenged to create and sustain an affordable technology-focused coaching program on their own. I’m not sure there is a ready supply of people who qualify to be coaches, people who understand both the power of technology and classroom practice and structure well enough to be able to identify and support transformative approaches. I would also think that coaching is a uniquely local proposition. Of course, there are common foundational elements, but how those elements are interpreted and implemented depends on local conditions—social relationships within the school, student achievement levels, community resources and support. That may make some findings difficult to generalize across locations. There will still be a number of best practices that can be shared and many examples of powerful uses of technology in classrooms that teachers can learn from. I’ve always contended that teachers need models of what is possible to help them adjust and upgrade their own practice. Great examples of transformative technology use could really help move the needle for everyone.

The Department of Education published a Rule Document in the Federal Register on Monday that better aligns the regulations for direct grants under the Education Department General Administrative Regulations (EDGAR) with the definition of “evidence-based” used in ESSA. These regulations do not establish substantive policy changes, but instead make technical changes to existing regulations.

In addition to aligning the regulations to the four levels of evidence detailed in section 8101(21)(A) of ESSA, the rule clarifies that the Department may assess the extent to which any project proposed under a grant program represents a “faithful adaptation of the evidence cited in support of its project.” Districts can’t cite a successful study that uses a tutoring approach as evidence for an intervention they plan to implement that uses small group instruction.

Further, the Department clarifies that there must be a link between the proposed activities, strategies, and interventions and specific statistically significant effects. In other words, studies cited as evidence must be relevant to the way in which the district plans to use the intervention. If the district wants to use a math intervention with minority boys, the supporting study cited as evidence should show positive results for minority boys or at least a group of students that included minority boys.

Districts or states that plan to build and test their own interventions are required to submit their evaluator’s qualifications and the resources they would dedicate to doing the evaluation.

The Department of Education will be accepting comments for 30 days and will consider these comments in determining whether to make further technical changes to the regulations or engage in additional rulemaking. Comments may be mailed to the Department or submitted electronically via the Federal eRulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov.