Opinion: What is Washoe Schools’ plan for 21st century learning? | SierraSun.com

Opinion: What is Washoe Schools’ plan for 21st century learning?

Mary M. Alber
Special to the Bonanza

Of the many initiatives in Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval's landmark education budget, one program deserves much greater attention from WCSD leadership and citizens; Nevada Ready 21.

NR21 is an under-funded trial initiative to provide some schools with dedicated laptops for each student along with infrastructure, learning applications, teacher training, and instructional coaching.

Most districts and states, now including NV, have now acknowledged that technology-enabled 21st century learning programs are the new norm of education.

Solid case studies have demonstrated the reasons which include increased student engagement and achievement through real-world collaborative problem solving, active learning projects, adaptive learning applications, and student-directed, personalized curriculum and pathways to graduation and careers.

With 1:1 laptop programs, teachers review student work and give feedback more quickly and iteratively to build deep knowing and skill mastery (rather than bare minimum proficiency).

As formative assessments become embedded in daily learning, students can progress at their own pace to demonstrate subject area and skill competency. No more reliance on end-of-year, high-stress, high-stakes summative exams.

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Thanks to the rapidly proliferating and improving quality of adaptive and game-based learning applications, teachers can better meet the diverse student needs across the spectrum from special needs (IEP), English learners, disadvantaged, to gifted and talented.

Signature Academy students will all be better served when they can research, watch videos, collaborate, create, and submit assignments online at school, a public library, and home.

All students can graduate with a portfolio of project outcomes that impress colleges and potential employers with evidence of abilities to collaborate, communicate, think critically and creatively to solve inter-disciplinary problems, be a self-directed learner, and be fluent with the use of current technologies.

Such graduates will also be attractive to Tesla and other desirable employers in the region because they will have had access to trade and college level courses, mentors, and internships that helped them explore and discover what they love to do.

Unfortunately, the Nevada Ready 21 program will only fund 2 to 4 middle schools in WCSD in the next two years and WCSD has NO plan to support other schools in transitioning in the next five years.

While leadership explains that they have $29 million in debt and critical needs for new buildings for the growing student population, for updating textbooks, computer labs and infrastructure, and for attracting highly skilled teachers with competitive salaries, the absence of technology-enabled learning means students are becoming increasingly unprepared for good jobs and colleges.

According to the February WCSD Data Summit report (pg 97), 56 percent of all 2013 gradates going to NV colleges required remedial classes in math and/or English and 27 percent of students did not even graduate!

In my opinion, the WCSD Board is at risk of perpetuating these problems through two immanent decisions:

1) Failing to envision 21st century 1:1 learning for ANY students in the Envision 2020 Strategic Plan; and

2) Re-hiring the interim superintendent, despite her not demonstrating "innovative and courageous leadership" (per Envision 2020 Vision) in this crucial area.

Please express your views through the Board survey at washoeschools.net (until June 18) and send an email to boardmembers@washoeschools.net.

Mary M. Alber, MBA, Ph.D. is a parent and resident of Incline Village and Reno.