The Long Review, April 2011

The Long Review, April 2011

Too often, reviews of edtech fall short of reality. Sure, speeds and feeds are important to consider, but how does this stuff work in the real world? T&L will try to answer that question this school year when our editors follow the stakeholders at Village Charter School (VC S) in Trenton, NJ as they implement Pearson’s SuccessMaker software on a 40-seat Dell PC desktop network.

For VCS, making the initial decision to accept a free test drive of a costly curriculum program was simple. Including the program and other hardware upgrades into next year’s school budget, which adds more than 100k to the bottom line, demanded serious contemplation.

For VCS Head of School Lee Byron, what drove the school’s decision to continue on with the program are the results. “All but two grades have shown an overall net improvement,” he says. “We have many students who began this fall performing a year and half below their grade-level proficiency that have caught up almost a whole year. That’s moving the needle in the right direction.”

A recent tour of the Dell/ Pearson labs showed the program in full motion. Teachers were hunched over 8th grade student shoulders, guiding them on long multiplication and division. Observations were written in large three-ring binders that also hold printouts of the student’s scores. “We take these books and use them in routine meetings with the staff,” says Principal Keoke Wooten-Johnson. “The program also can take the individual student information and turn it into pie charts or bar graphs when we want to look at the overall picture.”

One point to consider: Just because there are marked improvements within the Pearson system, doesn’t mean that scores will automatically improve when it comes to the state testing, which is slated for this month, and what the school will ultimately be judged upon. “The kids have been working on the computers, then they are given a pencil and asked to fill in dots on paper. That’s definitely a disconnect.”

As far as the hardware goes, VCS has decided to extend its relationship with Dell as well. The board recently approved the purchase of Dell netbooks and tablets for a pilot program with grades one and five. With the Pearson implementation, the computers are running only one program all day. The netbooks will be used to experiment with a one-to-one initiative based on a learning management system created by Moodlerooms. It was Dell who brokered the relationship with the software provider. This exemplifies what Byron expects from a relationship with a technology provider: “I can get computers from anywhere, and they should all work well or they wouldn’t be in business. What I’m looking for is a partner who can help guide us in a more holistic sense. That’s what we have with Dell right now.”