The Edvocate’s 2018 EdTech 20: A Ranking of 20 Global Edtech Influencers

Who are the biggest edtech influencers in the world? The Edvocate editorial team has exhaustively researched the movers and shakers of edtech and selected 20 global influencers. To frame our methodology, we decided to define edtech influencer broadly. On this list, you will find administrators, bloggers, journalists, policymakers, researchers, innovators, businessmen, activists, etc. who are transforming the edtech space as we know it.

The influencers that we chose are all active in the area of edtech, doing something influential in 2018, well-known throughout the edtech landscape, and making an impact globally. We are excited to witness how these influencers continue to change the world this year, and we are anxious to see who will stand on the shoulders of these giants, and as a result, make our list next year. Without further ado, here is The Edvocate’s 2018 EdTech 20: A Ranking of 20 Global Edtech Influencers.


1. Nathaniel A. Davis

CEO and Chairman of the Board of Directors at K12

What His Current Focus Is: Mr. Davis is the CEO of K12, a technology-based education company and leading provider of online curriculum and school programs for students in pre-K through high school. As CEO and Chairman, he focuses on strengthening the K12 organization, its operations, and its academic programs. He is the person responsible for K12’s meteoric rise over the last decade.

How He’s Transforming the EdTech Space: Under his helm, K12 is driving innovation and advancing the quality of education by delivering state-of-the-art, digital learning platforms and technology to students and school districts across the globe. K12’s curriculum serves over 2,000 schools and school districts and has delivered millions of courses over the past decade. K12 is a company of educators providing online and blended education solutions to charter schools, public school districts, private schools, and directly to families. The K12 program is offered through more than 70 partner public schools and school districts and public and private schools serving students in all 50 states and more than 100 countries.

What His Background Is: Mr. Davis received an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, an MS in Engineering Computer Science at the Moore School of the University of Pennsylvania, and a BS in Engineering from Stevens Institute of Technology.

What May Surprise You About Him: With a personal passion for serving children and helping them achieve higher levels of success, Mr. Davis founded the JANDT Foundation to aid minority children in attending private and parochial schools in the Washington, DC area.

Twitter: @K12bloggED

Email: N/A


2. Sal Khan

Founder and Executive Director of Khan Academy

What His Current Focus Is: Sal Kahn is an American educator who has founded both an online education platform called the Khan Academy, as well as a physical school, the Khan Lab School.  The Khan Academy is a free service that offers over 6500 video lessons on a range of topics and subjects, through primarily focused on math and science. The Khan Academy’s YouTube page has more than 2.9 million subscribers.

How He’s Transforming the EdTech Space: Khan’s goal is to reach as many students as possible, regardless of resources, and so his mission is to make his lessons accessible and free.  Kahn’s videos, therefore, have become vital educational resources for rural African and Asian students.

What His Background Is:  Kahn graduated from MIT with a Bachelor’s of Science in math, electrical engineering, and computer sciences; he then earned an MBA from Harvard.  Kahn worked hedge fund analyst.  As his online tutoring and education videos gained popularity, he quit his hedge fund position in 2009 to shift his focus to crafting and developing his online education endeavors.

What May Surprise You About Him: The Khan Academy began as a way for Kahn to tutor his cousin long-distance.

Twitter: @khanacademy

Email: [email protected]


3. Mike Tholfsen

Principal Product Manager on the #MicrosoftEDU Team

What His Current Focus Is: Mike Tholfsen is the Principal Product Manager on the Microsoft Education team. He mainly focuses on OneNote Class and Staff Notebooks, Learning Tools and Microsoft Teams. He has spent over 20 years at Microsoft, helping to shape their education division. Mike works with educators and pupils from all over the world to create products that improve student outcomes. He works tirelessly to promote Microsoft Education and their products. This has resulted in an increased share of the edtech market for Microsoft.

How He’s Transforming the EdTech Space: Mike is transforming the edtech space by creating products that 1. Help teachers maximize their productivity; 2. Level the playing field for students from minority groups and those that have special needs; and lastly 3. Take advantage of the power and promise of personalized learning and artificial intelligence.

What His Background Is: Mike has a B.S. in Information Systems from the University of Washington. Although he does not have a background in education, he has worked hard to come up to speed. He has a firm grasp on the intersection of education and technology, as evidenced by the wonderful products that have been released under his watch.

What May Surprise You About Him: Mike’s favorite book is The Fourth Turning, by William Strauss and Neil Howe.

Twitter: @mtholfsen

Email: [email protected]


4. Anant Agarwal

Founder and CEO of edX

What His Current Focus Is: Professor Anant Agarwal is currently a professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  He is also one of the founders and the CEO of edX, a MOOC (massive online open course forum) and non-profit organization.  He created and taught the first edX course – one on circuits and electronics – which boasts an enrollment of over 155,000 students from over 160 countries across the world.  In addition to his work at MIT and on edX, Anant hacks on an online circuit’s lab called WebSim in his free time.

How He’s Transforming the EdTech Space: Anant has long been an outspoken advocate of MOOCs, which strive to make education accessible to learners at low or no cost, worldwide.  edX draws courses from the nation’s – and the world’s – leading educational institutions.  They offer many free courses, and students can choose to pay a fee for a certificate.  These fees help continue to fund free classes.

What His Background Is: Anant was born in Mangalore, India in 1959.  He studied at St. Aloysius Mangalore, the Indian Institute of Technology Madras, and received his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University.  In addition to edX, Anant has worked on various engineering and computer technology endeavors including Sparcle, Alewife, Virtual Wires, LOUD, Oxygen, and Fugu.

What May Surprise You About Him: According to an interview on Life Hacker, Anant admits to having dabbled in standup comedy in college.  He finds humor to be an essential quality of a strong leader.

Twitter: @agarwaledu

Email: [email protected]


5. Daniel Hamburger

CEO of Renaissance

What His Current Focus Is: Daniel is focused on building an organization that delivers powerful student growth data and insights. He believes actionable data is key to personalized learning, and this data is at the heart of Renaissance solutions. Educators can use assessments to understand what each student has mastered, and then place students into the right level of instructional curriculum. Renaissance is also increasing equity and access through its recent acquisition of myON, a provider of digital literacy solutions. By adding myON, Renaissance provides students with unlimited access to more than 13,000 digital books.

How He’s Transforming the EdTech Space: Daniel and team have launched Renaissance Flow 360, a solution that drives personalized learning by bridging assessment to instruction. It improves learning outcomes for every student, and provides centralized data on student mastery across multiple educational resources, including the top educational vendors.

What His Background Is: Daniel has nearly 20 years of experience in education. Prior to joining Renaissance in 2017, he was CEO of Adtalem Global Education (formerly DeVry Education), a global provider of educational services. He led Adtalem from 2006 through 2016 and drove its transformation from a domestic, single university to an industry-leading institution serving students around the world and across multiple disciplines.

What May Surprise You About Him: Daniel was brought up in a family that highly valued education, especially varied educational experiences. In fact, their rule was, “You can go to any college you want, as long as it’s Michigan.”


Email: [email protected]


6. Bill Latham

CEO, MeTEOR Education

What His Current Focus Is: Bill Latham is CEO and senior program designer at MeTEOR Education, a company that inspires and supports communities and their students in creating transformational learning experiences. Focused on the strong interplay between pedagogy and support spaces, Latham is a leading global advocate for the constant, consistent support of best-practice instruction through living classroom environments. He and his team’s designs have led to measurable increases in basic literacy, collaborative learning, and complexity of student tasks at all grade levels. Latham is connected with leading global researchers and academics in the field, employing the latest best practice findings as he leads design work for classrooms, school buildings, and broader school systems.

How He’s Transforming the EdTech Space: Bill is a leader in the design and implementation of holistic, high-impact learning experiences and environments, he has consulted with schools, districts, and governmental agencies across the Western Hemisphere on the design, outfitting and implementation of classroom and school environments aligned to critical learning priorities for more than 15 years. He and his team have directly served more than 1,000 schools in the United States alone. Latham is an architect of the human engagement by design methodology. He focuses on the integration of foundational engagement frameworks, technology, furnishings, and space to drive specific-learning 21st Century college and career-ready outcomes. He is the co-author of the book Humanizing the Education Machine: How to Create Schools That Turn Disengaged Kids Into Inspired Learners (Wiley; November 7, 2016).

What His Background Is: Bill holds a B.S. degree in Chemistry and an MBA from the University of Florida.

What May Surprise You About Him: He is active in martial arts and competes at a national level.

Twitter: @BillLatham3

Email: [email protected]


7. Arne Bergby

CEO of itslearning

His Current Focus: Arne joined itslearning in 2004. Passionate about education and helping students and teachers succeed, he has led itslearning to be Europe’s largest provider of educational learning platforms. As CEO, his focus is on making the student-centered teaching and learning platform the ideal one stop shop for creating and delivering courses and assessments, managing standards-aligned content, enabling communication and collaboration for teachers, parents and students, and more.

Put another way, itslearning strives to remain at the heart of education. Under Arne’s leadership  itslearning continues to gain market share in the United States as it partners with Houston (TX) Independent School District, Forsyth County (GA) Schools, Fort Worth (TX) Independent School District, Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township (IN) and San Bernardino (CA) City  Unified School District – to name just a few. Designed for teachers and how they want to teach, itslearning is a cloud-based learning platform used by millions of teachers, students, administrators and parents around the world. It can be found at all levels of education, from primary schools to universities, helping teachers make education more inspiring and valuable for today’s students.

How He’s Transforming the EdTech Space: Arne is working to transform the education space by overseeing the continuous improvement and rise of itslearning as one of the world’s most robust and popular learning management systems. itslearning has over seven million active users worldwide, mainly in the United States, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. Made for today’s classroom, itslearning is one of the most innovative products in the global education sector.

His Background:  Previously, Arne served as managing director of Tieto, one of the largest ICT companies in Europe. Arne received a Master of Management degree from the Norwegian Business School in 1987. He is a member of the Educational Consultants Network, K-12 Assistive Technology Professionals, and is on the Board of Directors of G.C. Rieber.

What May Surprise You About Him:

He’s fiercely competitive. Whatever your game — skiing, running, even cooking — he’s always up for good-natured competition.

Twitter: @ArneBergby

Email: [email protected]


8. Todd Brekhus

President of myON at Renaissance Learning

What His Current Focus Is: Todd believes that literacy, student choice, and personalized learning are the three keys to transforming learning for all students. myON’s expansive digital content library and literacy tools, paired with Renaissance’s complementary reading practice and assessment offerings, enables the company to deliver a comprehensive, innovative suite of reading solutions to educators and students worldwide. Todd and his team work to inspire the love of reading and learning by leveling the playing field with unlimited access to books. He is a lifelong advocate of reading and literacy.

How He’s Transforming the EdTech Space: Through myON’s literacy ecosystem, Todd and his team offer more than 4 million students instant and unlimited access to more than 13,000 enhanced digital books and daily news articles, real-time assessments, and close reading tools.

What His Background Is: As the President of myON at Renaissance Learning, Todd is focused on product development and providing educators tools to create a personalized learning environment. Before joining the edtech business community, he spent eight years in education as a teacher, department chair, and technology director. He has led successful edtech companies including Capstone Digital, PLATO Learning, Learning Elements, and MCI WorldCom, where he helped develop and implement the Marco Polo program.

What May Surprise You About Him: In high school, Todd was a competitive slalom ski racer.

Twitter: @ToddBrekhus

Email: [email protected]


9. Jay King

COO of StudySync®

What His Current Focus Is: Jay is presently focused on serving as the COO of StudySync. Over the past year, Jay has traveled to several districts throughout California, Illinois, and Arizona to meet and learn from StudySync users, including districts in Geneva, Elgin, Huntley, St. Helena, Paradise Valley, and more. Recently, Jay has been instrumental in bringing StudySync’s new production studio to Petaluma, CA, his hometown. As a product of the Petaluma public school education, Jay believes that Petaluma encompasses a small-town culture, with strong community values, which are common throughout the U.S. and indicative of how K-12 education can have such a positive impact on society. The studio will be the site where several media productions are created, including StudySync® TV.

How He’s Transforming the EdTech Space: In 2009, Jay co-founded StudySync with StudySync’s CEO, Robert Romano. Their vision was to leverage technology and social learning to engage students in the great works of literature. As one of the nation’s most highly regarded literacy curriculums, StudySync provides these digitally-connected students with media-rich learning experiences, real-world topics, and a direct read-write connection, while giving teachers flexible digital tools and engaging print resources supporting teaching, differentiation, and standards-based assessment. In 2013 StudySync partnered with McGraw-Hill Education to exclusively distribute StudySync in the k – 12 market. The product has also received numerous prestigious awards including the coveted Innovation Award from the Association of Educational Publishers (AEP).

What His Background Is: Previously, Jay co-founded EdVantage Software, also with Robert Romano, and led the development of several award-winning products. After its acquisition of EdVantage, Jay led Riverdeep’s web development team, winning the prestigious CODiE award. With StudySync, Jay has led the development of StudySync’s ELA and SyncBlast products, which have gained wide acceptance and accolades. Jay has an M.S. in Accounting from Santa Clara University.

What May Surprise You About Him: Jay is a certified sports fanatic. He is probably watching ESPN right now.

Twitter: @johnjking

Email: [email protected]


10. Chris Twyman

Co-Founder & CEO of BoomWriter Media

What His Current Focus Is: Chris’s passion is to make sure that edtech doesn’t widen the achievement gap. As an entrepreneur in the education industry, either you target your product at the schools that can afford to pay or you make sure everyone can use it and find a way to fund the business. The latter is a much bigger challenge than the former, but that is the mission of BoomWriter. If it is successful, it will narrow the achievement gap. Chris’s investors understand this mission, and everyone sleeps more soundly because of that.

How He’s Transforming the EdTech Space: Many kids don’t like writing, but they do like using their imaginations. BoomWriter allows students to inject imagination into their writing, making it super engaging. Engaged kids produce better work, and better writing impacts all other areas of education.

What His Background Is: Chris has always worked in the technology space. From his start in the UK through to living in Boston, he has worked at large software companies like Sybase, Computer Associates, and Tibco. Before founding BoomWriter, Chris was the founder and CEO of an HR technology start-up. Somewhere in there, he also squeezed in an MBA and is a partner in a small VC fund based in Miami.

What May Surprise You About Him: He has run the Boston Marathon twice and is a paid-up member of the Bigfoot Research Organization.

Twitter: @BoomWriter_

Email:  [email protected]


11. Angela Maiers

Founder of Maiers Educational Services, Teacher, Writer

What Her Current Focus Is: With over 25 years of experience in education, Angela Maiers is a strong proponent of helping students feel passionate about learning and schools.  She is the creator of the You Matter Movement and an advocate for the Genius Hour in schools.  The You Matter Movement is centered on helping teachers help students feel seen, recognized, and valued which, in turn, helps them plug into their education.  The Genius Hour is an idea she borrowed from Google’s 20% Time policy for their engineers.  Under this theory, students are given (at least) one class period per week to pursue their passions under the tutelage of a teacher.

How She’s Transforming the EdTech Space: Maiers works to help teachers and students understand and employ the innovative power of technology.  Through Twitter, Instagram, and other social media, Maiers encourages teachers and other adults to send Mattergrams, messages tagged #YouMatter that encourage students and children to recognize their power to impact the world in a positive way.

What Her Background Is: Maiers is an alumna of the University of Iowa.  She received a Bachelor’s in Education.  She also holds a Master’s degree in Education and Curriculum from Drake University.  She has 28 years of teaching experience across a range of grade levels, and her work has impacted over 78,000 American classrooms.

What May Surprise You About Her: Maiers claims that the elementary school job of being the milk carrier is the most important, most coveted of responsibilities, and can be used as a microcosm of viewing your place in the world.

Twitter: @angelamaiers

Email: [email protected]


12. Nichole Pinkard

Associate Professor at DePaul University in the College of Computing and Digital Media

What Her Current Focus Is: Pinkard is an Associate Professor at DePaul University in the College of Computing and Digital Media. Her research is focused on the design and use of pedagogical-based social networks, new media literacy learning outcomes, ecological models of learning and developing pathways for urban youth. She is a strong  advocate for digital literacy and believes that it will lead a revolution in the world of education. This is why she founded the Digital Youth Network in 2006. This Network seeks to help educators learn to teach with technology and digital media. It further seeks to ensure that technology is available to everyone, regardless of their socioeconomic background.

How She’s Transforming the EdTech Space: Pinkard founded the Digital Youth Network (DYN) in 2006, and she has been creating initiatives that transform the edtech space every since. The DYN model begins with sixth to eighth-grade education and focuses on mandatory in-school media arts classes and optional after-school programs. She was also a co-founder of YOUmedia, a public learning space for teens that immerses students in a context of traditional media to produce new media artifacts like games, videos, and virtual worlds. In April 2010, Pinkard co-founded RemixWorld along with Robert Chang. RemixWorld is a cloud-based social learning network for primary and secondary education, which seeks to safely and securely connect children and adolescents with curriculum, extended learning, and mentorship opportunities.

What Her Background Is: Pinkard holds a B.S. in Computer Science from Stanford University, an M.S. in Computer Science from Northwestern University, and a Ph.D. in Learning Sciences from Northwestern University.

What May Surprise You About Her: Nothing. We mean that in a good way.

Twitter: @npinkard

Email: Nichole can be contacted via her website:


13. Steven Anderson

Co-founder of #EdChat on Twitter, Education Consultant

What His Current Focus Is: Steven Anderson is an educational expert who focuses on the fusion of technology and social media in pedagogy.  Anderson is a blogger and a former classroom teacher and district technology director.  He hosts the weekly #EdChat on Twitter, which boasts over 1500 participants each week.  Anderson’s #EdChats have earned him the Twitterer of the Year distinction twice.

How He’s Transforming the EdTech Space: Anderson works to help teachers meet students in the places where they live: the digital universe.  He travels the country, speaking at schools and conferences about how to safely and appropriately integrate social media in classrooms and how to leverage students’ knowledge of technology to help them learn and grow.

What His Background Is: Anderson is a native of North Carolina, where he still currently resides.  He earned his bachelor’s degree in Middle-Grade Math and Science Education from Western Carolina University and then obtained a Master’s degree in Instructional Technology from East Carolina University.  He was the director of technology at Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools in Winston-Salem, NC.

What May Surprise You About Him: Anderson is also the author of 3 books geared toward educators and administrators about efficacy in using technology.

Twitter: @web20classroom

Email: [email protected]


 14. Rafranz Davis

Executive Director of Professional and Digital Learning for Lufkin ISD

What Her Current Focus Is: As Executive Director of Professional and Digital Learning, Rafranz helps educators to effectively implement digital learning into their classrooms. She is a speaker, blogger, and an edtech advocate who is never afraid to speak truth to any situation. She is a voice for diverse perspectives in edtech, which have been missing since edtech’s inception. She is the author of The Missing Voices in EdTech: Bringing Diversity into EdTech, a book that puts a spotlight on the fact that the education community has failed to consider the viewpoints of people of color in discussions about edtech.

How She’s Transforming the EdTech Space: By advocating for diverse populations in edtech, she is giving a voice to a population that edtech influencers and policy makers have never acknowledged. Because of her, and people like her, discussions around the intersection of edtech and diversity have increased exponentially. Just visit your favorite edtech blog or read the keynote and presentation titles at your favorite conference. Not to mention, when it comes to the implementation of edtech in an educational environment, Rafranz is a trailblazer.

What Her Background Is: Rafranz obtained an associate’s degree from Navarro College and bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Texas A&M University–Commerce. Since her undergraduate days, she has devoted her life to helping educators implement technology in educational environments. She was a middle school math teacher before becoming a curricular strategist and technologist.

What May Surprise You About Her: Rafranz is never afraid to call a spade a spade.

Twitter: @rafranzdavis

Email: Rafranz can be contacted via her website:


15. Chaks Appalabattula

Founder & CEO of Bloomz, Inc.

What His Current Focus Is: Chaks is focused on continuing the fast growth of the Bloomz app, an easy-to-use parent-teacher communication tool for today’s parents, who are used to communicating through their smartphones. Bloomz has a familiar social media interface that encourages parents to participate in their child’s learning and connect with their teacher through a secure platform. With the launch of their school-wide offering, Chaks has also created a powerful premium subscription for school administrators that includes useful data analytics, premium access for all their members, and unlimited membership and storage.

How He’s Transforming the EdTech Space: Chaks has helped bring Bloomz to more than 39,000 schools around the world by combining a social networking experience with a comprehensive set of tools—messaging and media sharing, calendar, signups, and student behavior tracking—in one friendly, easy-to-use app.

What His Background Is: Before creating Bloomz, Chaks applied his computer science and engineering education at companies such as Microsoft, AskMe, and most recently as the vice president of product and partnerships at GlobalScholar, where he focused on building an end-to-end learning platform to connect teachers, students, and administrators. He founded Bloomz, Inc. in January 2014 and serves as the Founder and CEO.

What May Surprise You About Him: Chaks created Bloomz after he and his wife both fell ill and had communication difficulties with his children’s teachers.

Twitter: @achaks

Email: [email protected]


16. Marina Umaschi Bers

Co-founder and chief scientist at KinderLab Robotics, Inc., and a professor at the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development and the Computer Science Department at Tufts University, where she directs the DevTech research group.

What Her Current Focus Is: Dr. Bers is focused on innovative learning technologies to promote positive youth development. Her research focuses on how technology, such as robotics and programming languages, promotes new ways of thinking and learning in early childhood. With Dr. Bers’ approach, introducing computational thinking in early childhood, students learn to be creators and collaborators with technology and with each other. Her most recent book explores coding as a “new language”, and how it can be presented in a playful context, merging STEM/STEAM and coding with social-emotional learning.

How She’s Transforming the EdTech Space: Dr. Bers developed the KIBO robot kit for children 4–7, which is programmed with wooden blocks without keyboards or screens, and is used in 52 countries. She also co-developed the free ScratchJr programming language with over 9.5M downloads.

What Her Background Is: Dr. Bers did her undergraduate at Buenos Aires University, and received a Master’s degree from Boston University and a Master of Science and PhD from the MIT Media Laboratory, where she studied under Dr. Seymour Papert, world-renowned pioneer in developing the first programming language for children, LOGO. She has received prestigious awards, has written four books, and in 2014 did a TEDx talk titled “Young programmers – think playgrounds, not playpens.”

What May Surprise You About Her: Dr. Bers is from Argentina, has three children, speaks four languages, dances tango, and has worked all over the world.

Twitter: @marinabers

Email: [email protected]


17. Vicki Davis

Creator of the Cool Cat Teacher Blog, IT Administrator and Teacher at Westwood Schools

What Her Current Focus Is: Vicki Davis is a current school teacher and blogger. She is also a freelance writer who focuses on professional development for teachers, inspiring them to use technology and build meaningful relationships with their students.  Through her blog and her two books, she reaches hundreds of thousands of teachers, inspiring them to share their trials and triumphs and learn from one another, creating a holistic, wholesome environment to foster student achievement.

How She’s Transforming the EdTech Space: Davis’ blog, the Cool Cat Teacher Blog, has garnered much attention and numerous awards, including the Edublogger Award for Best Teacher Blog.  Her current project, the global collaborative app project MAD About Mattering, encourages students to create “apps that matter” in collaborative environments, applying the skills and knowledge they learn in the classroom to better the world around them.

What Her Background Is: Davis has been a full-time teacher and IT director at a school in Camilla, Georgia since 2002.  She was inspired to begin pursuing professional and teacher development when she began to feel stretched thin – ineffective in the classroom and not as present as she would have liked at home with her children.  Two of her children have learning differences, and she began her educational ministry in hopes to better understand students who learn differently like her own children.

What May Surprise You About Her: Davis and her students have traveled all over the world, including to Qatar, India, China, Hawaii, and UAE to present to teachers worldwide about the impact of technology.

Twitter: @coolcatteacher

Email: Vicki can be contacted via her website:


18. Shelly Sanchez Terrell

Co-founder of #EdChat, Creator of 30 Goals Challenge for Education

What Her Current Focus Is: Shelly Sanchez Terrell is an international speaker and e-learning and digital learning specialist.  She has worked with teachers and taught English language learners in over 20 countries.  She has also been recognized as one of Microsoft’s Heroes for Education for her work promoting teacher-driven professional development and the integration of technology in the classroom.  Terrell offers webinars and online presentations each week to reach out to teachers across the United States and the world.

How She’s Transforming the EdTech Space: Terrell has inspired over 10,000 teachers to transform their classrooms through her 30 Goals Challenge, which guides the teacher to integrate new technology in his or her classroom, avoid the dreaded “teacher burnout,” and reconnect with students.  The Goals Challenge helps teachers set both short- and long-term goals to reinvigorate his or her passion for education.

What Her Background Is: Terrell received her Bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Texas at San Antonio, and her Master’s degree in curriculum instruction ESL from the University of Phoenix.  She worked as an ESOL teacher and social media community manager before shifting her focus to teacher training and outreach.

What May Surprise You About Her: Terrell has not only taught English to language learners in the United States but has taught abroad in Germany and to online learners in Spain as well.

Twitter: @shellterrell

Email: [email protected]


19. Eric Sheninger

Award-Winning Former Principal and Author

What His Current Focus Is: Eric is an award-winning former principal who is changing the way that schools think about and also utilize technology. His primary focus is helping schools harness the power of edtech and use it not only to connect with students but also to help them achieve academically. He is an accomplished speaker and author who tweets about all things education.

How He’s Transforming the EdTech Space: Eric is an avid blogger, and his thought-provoking and practical posts shed light on the need for thoughtful technology implementation, more effective learning strategies, and stronger school branding, among other ideas. He is helping schools lead and learn in a digital age. He is responsible for Pillars of Digital Leadership, which is a framework that seeks to transform school cultures.

What His Background Is: Eric is a senior fellow and thought leader on digital leadership with the International Center for Leadership in Education. Before that, he was an award-winning Principal at New Milford High School. Under his helm, the school became a globally recognized model for innovative practices in edtech. Sheninger holds two bachelor’s degrees — a B.S. from Salisbury University and a B.S. from University of Maryland Eastern Shore — and a master’s in education from the East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania.

What May Surprise You About Him: Even with his busy schedule, he has found time to write 5 books.

Twitter: @e_sheninger

Email: [email protected]


20. Lucy Gray

Education Consultant, Co-founder of the Global Education Conference

What Her Current Focus Is: Lucy Gray is an educational consultant, Apple Distinguished Educator, and Google Certified Teacher.  Gray’s consulting is focused on presenting to teachers and staffs about best practices in technology integration, information literacy, global education initiatives, and harnessing the power of social media.  Currently, Gray is working as an innovation coach, mentoring elementary school teachers to explore and create mobile learning opportunities.

How She’s Transforming the EdTech Space: Gray creates hands-on experiences for teachers, coaching them through the process of creating cultures of creativity and innovation in their schools.  Instead of simply presenting or lecturing, she dives into schools, meeting regularly with their employees to promote positive change.  She also works as a liaison in transitioning schools toward 1:1 technology integration.

What Her Background Is: Gray received her degree in art history and elementary education from Beloit College in 1989, followed by a Master’s degree in technology in education from National-Louis University in 2002.  She has taught in the Chicago Public School system, University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, and has worked in various capacities at the University of Chicago.

What May Surprise You About Her: Gray makes all of her consulting presentations available for free on her web page at

Twitter: @elemenous

Email: [email protected]



As you can see, there is no shortage of global edtech influencers out there. Who did we forget? Do you have any edtech influencers who you know and follow? Let us know.









18 Reasons the U.S. Education System is Failing

Once upon a time, enthusiasts designed a formal education system to meet the economic demands of the industrial revolution. Fast forward to today and, with the current global economic climate, it seems apparent that the now established education system is unable to meet the needs of our hyper-connected society – a society that is in a constant state of evolution. Let’s examine 18 problems that prevent the US education system from regaining its former preeminence. Check out ExamSnap for all your exam needs.  

Parents are not involved enough. Of all the things out of the control of teachers, this one is perhaps the most frustrating. Time spent in the classroom is simply not enough for teachers to instruct every student, to teach them what they need to know. There must, inevitably, be some interaction outside school hours. Of course, students at a socio-economic disadvantage often struggle in school, particularly if parents lack higher levels of education. But students from middle and upper class families aren’t off the hook, either. The demands of careers and an over-dependence on schools put higher-class kids at risk too when it comes to the lack of parental involvement in academics.

  1. Schools are closing left and right. It’s been a rough year for public schools. Many have found themselves on the chopping block. Parents, students and communities as a whole feel targeted, even if school board members are quick to cite unbiased numbers. There is no concrete way to declare a winner in these cases, either. Sometimes, a school closing is simply inevitable but communities should first look for other solutions. Instead of shutting down underutilized public schools – icons of the community – districts should consider other neighborhood uses, such as a community center or adult education classes. Closing public schools should not be a short-sighted procedure. The decision should focus on the only investment that really matters: a quality public education for all our nation’s children.
  2. Our schools are overcrowded. The smaller the class, the better the individual student experience. A study by the National Center for Education Statistics found that 14 percent of U.S. schools exceed capacity. At a time where children need more attention than ever to succeed, overcrowded classrooms are making it even tougher to learn and tougher still for teachers to be effective.
  3. Technology comes with its downsides. I am an advocate for technology in the classroom. I think that ignoring the educational opportunities that technology has afforded us puts kids at a disadvantage. being said, screen culture overall has made the jobs of teachers much more difficult. Education has become synonymous with entertainment in many ways. Parents are quick to download educational games as soon as kids have the dexterity to operate a touch screen, and with the best of intentions. The quick-hit way that children are learning academics before and during their K-12 careers makes it even more difficult for teachers to keep up in the classroom setting, particularly since each student’s knowledge base and technological savvy varies.
  4. There is a lack of diversity in gifted education. The “talented and gifted” label is one bestowed upon the brightest and most advanced students. Beginning in early elementary grades, TAG programs separate student peers for the sake of individualized learning initiatives. Though the ideology is sound, the practice of it is often a monotone, unattractive look at contemporary American public schools. District schools need to find ways to better recognize different types of learning talent and look beyond the typical “gifted” student model. The national push to make talented and gifted programs better mirror the contemporary and ever-evolving student body is a step in the right direction. Real change happens on a smaller scale though – in individual districts, schools and TAG programs. That progress must start with understanding of the makeup of a particular student body and include innovative ways to include all students in TAG learning initiatives.
  5. School spending is stagnant, even in our improving economy. As the U.S. economy continues to improve, according to news headlines, one area is still feeling the squeeze from the recession years: K-12 public school spending. A report this month from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that 34 states are contributing less funding on a per student basis than they did prior to the recession years. Since states are responsible for 44 percent of total education funding in the U.S., these dismal numbers mean a continued crack down on school budgets despite an improving economy. If we cannot find the funding for our public schools, how can we expect things like the achievement gap to close or high school graduation rates to rise? It was understandable that budgets had to be slashed when the bottom dropped out of the economy. Now we are in a more stable place, though, it is time to get back to funding what matters most: the education of our K-12 students.
  6. We are still using the teacher training methods of yesterday. With respect to the students of the past, modern classrooms are full of sophisticated youngsters that show up with a detailed view of the world formed from more than home life experiences. Instant access to information from instant a child can press a touchscreen on a Smartphone and widespread socialization from as young as six weeks old in the form of childcare atmospheres – kids arrive at Kindergarten with less naivety than previous generations. Teachers don’t, in other words, get a clean slate. Instead, they get young minds cluttered with random information and ideas, all of which need fostering or remediating.
  7. There is a lack of teacher education innovation. It stands to reason that if students are changing, teachers must change too. More specifically, it is time to modify teacher education to reflect the demands of the modern K – 12 classrooms. There are policy and practice changes taking place all over the world – many driven by teachers – that address the cultural shifts in the classroom. Public education in America needs teachers who are better trained to meet the needs of specific student populations, understand the necessary role of distance learning, and are willing to speak up to facilitate classroom change. Without these teachers, effective reform to meet global demand is not possible.
  8. Some students are lost to the school-to-prison pipeline. Sadly, over half of black young men who attend urban high schools do not earn a diploma. Of these dropouts, too, nearly 60 percent will go to prison at some point. Perhaps there is no real connection between these two statistics, or the eerily similar ones associated with young Latino men. Are these young people bad apples, destined to fail academically and then to live a life of crime? If some of the theories of genetic predisposition are true, perhaps these young men never stood a chance at success and have simply accepted their lots in life. But what if those answers, all of them, are just cop-outs? What if scoffing at a connection between a strong education and a life lived on the straight and narrow is an easy way to bypass the real issues in K-12 learning? Students who are at risk of dropping out of high school or turning to crime need more than a good report card. They need alternative suggestions on living a life that rises above their current circumstances. For a young person to truly have a shot at an honest life, he or she has to believe in the value of an education and its impact on good citizenship. That belief system has to come from direct conversations about making smart choices with trusted adults and peers.
  9. There is a nationwide college-gender gap, and surprisingly, we are not focusing on it. If you have been following education hot button issues for any length of time, you’ve likely read about the nationwide push to better encourage girls in areas like science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The thought is that by showing young women that these topics are just as appropriate for them as their male peers, more women will find lasting careers in these traditionally male-dominated fields. I’m all for more women in the STEM workplace but with all this focus in one area, are educators neglecting an even larger gender gap issue? I wonder how much of this trend is based on practicality and how much is based on a lingering social convention that women need to “prove” themselves when it comes to the workforce. Do women simply need a degree to land a job in any field? If so, the opposite is certainly not true for men – at least not yet. Will the young men in our classrooms today have a worse quality of life if they do not attend college – or will it be about the same?
  10. We still do not know how to handle high school dropouts. It seems that every time the issue of high school dropouts is discussed, it all centers on money. U.S. Census Statistics tell us that 38 percent of high school dropouts fall below the poverty line, compared with 18 percent of total households in every demographic. Dropouts are also 40 percent more likely to rent their residences and spend $450 less per month on housing costs than the overall population. Only around 60 percent of dropouts own vehicles and they spend over $300 less on entertainment annually than average Americans. It’s clear that a high school diploma is in fact the ticket to higher earnings, at least on a collective level. The negative financial ramifications of dropping out of high school cannot be denied, but the way they are over-emphasized seems like a worn-out tactic to me. Instead of focusing on students as earners, we really need to value them as learners so that we can encourage them to finish their high school education.
  11. We have not achieved education equity. Equity in education has long been an ideal. It’s an ideal celebrated in a variety of contexts, too. Even the Founding Fathers celebrated education as an ideal – something to which every citizen ought to be entitled. Unfortunately, though, the practice of equity in education has been less than effective. Equity, in the end, is a difficult ideal to maintain and many strategies attempting to maintain it have fallen far short in the implementation. To achieve equity, school systems need to have an approach for analyzing findings about recommended shifts in learning approaches and objectives. These approaches should also help teachers and administrators understand not what they have to avoid but what it is that they can do to achieve optimal equity moving forward.
  12. Technology brings a whole new dimension to cheating. Academic dishonesty is nothing new. As long as there have been homework assignments and tests, there have been cheaters. The way that cheating looks has changed over time, though. Technology has made it easier than ever. Perhaps the most interesting caveat of modern-day cheating in U.S. classrooms is that students often do not think they have done anything wrong. Schools must develop anti-cheating policies that include technology and those policies must be updated consistently. Teachers must stay vigilant, too, when it comes to what their students are doing in classrooms and how technology could be playing a negative role in the learning process. Parents must also talk to their kids about the appropriate ways to find academic answers and alert them to unethical behaviors that may seem innocent in their own eyes.
  13. We still struggle with making teacher tenure benefit both students and teachers. One of the most contested points of teacher contracts is the issue of tenure. Hardline education reformers argue that tenure protects underperforming teachers, which ends up punishing the students. Teachers unions challenge (among other reasons) that with the ever-changing landscape of K-12 education, including evaluation systems, tenure is necessary to protect the jobs of excellent teachers who could otherwise be ousted unfairly. It can often be a sticking point – and one that can lead to costly time out of classrooms, as recently seen in large school systems like New York City and Chicago. Now, I’m not suggesting that teachers just “give up” but I would support adjusting the expectations for tenure. It seems an appropriate step in the right direction for teachers in all types of schools. That energy then can be redirected towards realistic and helpful stipulations in teachers’ contracts that benefit the entire industry.
  14. More of our schools need to consider year-round schooling. Does it work? The traditional school year, with roughly three months of vacation days every summer, was first implemented when America was an agricultural society. The time off was not implemented to accommodate contemporary concerns, like children needing “down time” to decompress and “be kids.” The system was born out of economic necessity. In fact, the first schools that went against the summers-off version of the academic calendar were in urban areas that did not revolve around the agricultural calendar, like Chicago and New York, as early as the mid-1800s. It was much later, however, that the idea as a whole gained momentum. Overall, year-round schooling seems to show a slight advantage academically to students enrolled, but the numbers of students are not high enough to really get a good read on it at this point. What does seem clear, however, is that at-risk students do far better without a long summer break, and other students are not harmed by the year-round schedule.
  15. We are still wrestling the achievement gap. Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Education released student performance data in its National Assessment for Educational Progress report. The data is compiled every two years and it assesses reading and math achievements for fourth and eighth graders. This particular report also outlines differences between students based on racial and socioeconomic demographics. The data points to the places in the U.S. that still struggle with inequality in student opportunity and performance, otherwise known as the achievement gap. The achievement gap will likely always exist in some capacity, in much the same way that the U.S. high school dropout rate will likely never make it down to zero. This doesn’t mean it is a lost cause, of course. Every student who succeeds, from any demographic, is another victory in K-12 education and it benefits society as a whole. Better recognition by every educator, parent and citizen of the true problem that exists is a start; actionable programs are the next step.
  16. We need to consider how school security measures affect students. In theory, parents and educators would do anything to keep students safe, whether those students are pre-Kindergartners or wrapping up a college career. Nothing is too outlandish or over-the-top when it comes to protecting our kids and young adults. Metal detectors, security cameras, more police presence in school hallways, gated campuses – they all work toward the end goal of sheltering students and their educators, protecting some of the most vulnerable of our citizens. Emotions aside, though, how much does school security really increase actual safety? Do school security efforts actually hinder the learning experience? It sounds good to taut the virtues of tighter policies on school campuses but is it all just empty rhetoric? Given the fact that state spending per student is lower than at the start of the recession, how much should schools shell out on security costs? Perhaps the best investment we can make to safeguard our students and educators is in personal vigilance. Perhaps less reliance on so-called safety measures would lead to higher alertness.
  17. We need to make assistive technology more available for students with disabilities. A key to improving the educational experience for students with disabilities is better accommodations in schools and continued improvements in assistive technology. Assistive technology in K-12 classrooms, by definition, is designed to “improve the functional capabilities of a child with a disability.” While the word “technology” automatically conjures up images of cutting-edge electronics, some assistive technology is possible with just simple accommodations. Whether high-tech or simple in design, assistive technology has the ability to transform the learning experiences for the children who benefit. Assistive technology is important for providing a sound education for K-12 students with disabilities but benefits the greater good of the country, too. Nearly one-fourth of a specific student population is not being properly served and with so many technological advances, that is a number I believe can drop. Assistive technology in simple and complex platforms has the ability to lift the entire educational experience and provide a better life foundation for K-12 students with disabilities.

Some of these reasons are well-known and long-standing issues. However, others—such as the emergence of a screen culture—are new and even somewhat unexpected challenges. However, the nature of each issue does not matter. All of them are standing in the way of our becoming globally competitive.

Can you think of any reasons the U.S. educational systems are failing?

Click here to read all our posts concerning the Achievement Gap.

7 Educational Technology Concepts Every Teacher Should Know About

Since the Information Era began some decades ago, it has dramatically changed the way we educate our children. We live in a world of rapid change and the resemblance to yesterday is fleeting. Above all, communication has changed, and an enormous variety of information is now accessible to almost everyone at the click of a mouse or swipe of a finger.

We have seen a lot of advancement in education technology designed for the classroom, and to be effective, teachers need to stay abreast of these new technologies and concepts. The summer is the perfect time for teachers to receive retooling in the area of education and several innovations and concepts are available to help teachers familiarize themselves with important concepts.

Here, I will discuss ten education technologies and concepts that every teacher should know about:

1. BYOD (Bring Your Own Device): As a kind of movement within education, BYOD has already gained momentum in many districts across the country. In places like Chesapeake Public Schools, students are allowed to use privately owned electronic devices to access the wireless network on the school system’s filtered Internet. In Chesapeake, as in the other public and private schools where BYOD policies exist, students must sign a responsibility form that says they will only use the mobile device for academic enrichment while on school property. Students who bring their own devices into the classroom eliminate the initial costs and are also already comfortable with the technology. The downside is that not all students can readily afford such technology. Many must look for schools to develop technology financial assistance programs for families to help offset the full cost and maintenance of school-owned devices.

2. Customized learning experiences. Self-directed learning experiences are based upon the needs of individual students. The traditional way to look at learning is via the creation and assignment of work by teachers in a one-size-fits-all approach for every classroom. Customized learning, however, allows students to direct focus on feedback techniques that provide strategies for improvement during the process, instead of waiting for a given test period see if the methods are working. 

The idea of personalized learning is often met with hostility, especially as teachers must relinquish some classroom control for this trend to really work. On the flip side, though, customized learning has the potential to incorporate a variety of resources, such as virtual learning, to aid in the learning process while allowing teachers to moderate one-on-one learning experiences in practical ways. I think that the idea of handing control to students is frightening to some educators and administrators but once attempted, even on a small scale, it is easy to see the benefits of personalized learning.

3. Online learning. Virtual learning is certainly not new to the K-12 scene, but its increasing popularity is difficult to ignore. Once, only the world of distant learning embraced the process of online learning. Today, though, online learning is increasingly part of more traditional learning experiences. It is no longer all or nothing. Distance learning has become mainstream and will continue to transform in-classroom learning. Virtual learning also makes it possible for parents, teachers and students to have access to information they may need regardless of their actual physical location. In essence, it expands the classroom and gives students more time and space to complete and comprehend their lesson.

4.Virtual Laboratories. Virtual laboratories are popping up in school districts and online learning curricula across the country and making it easier and less expensive for students to do experiments remotely. Perhaps the most often cited benefit of any online learning is convenience. The same is true of virtual laboratories if the experiments are on the student’s own time. In some cases, a virtual lab may be used during regular class time but still, in such instances, there is flexibility for the teacher who is not limited by using resources within a strict timeframe.

Another benefit of virtual laboratories is instant feedback. Students can redo experiments on the spot if needed. All the results are recorded automatically, making communication between teachers and students more efficient too. Experiments no longer have a “one chance” option and students can analyze what went wrong immediately and critically. There is a fee associated with using virtual labs, but the capital and maintenance costs are drastically reduced. Instead of one school footing the bill for resources, the cost is split among the clients of the particular virtual lab. This allows schools to provide a better learning experience for students at a fraction of the cost.

5. Autism and iPads. Depending who you ask, the iPad has varying effects on children with autism – but most parents and teachers would say that the device has made in-roads in their students’ attitude towards learning. Experts at Apple say that iPads “cure” sensory overload and give autistic children control, along with opportunities for effective communication. Using less extreme language, researchers at Vanderbilt University say that speech-generating devices, like iPads, can encourage late-speaking children with autism spectrum disorders to speak. In other words, the basic technology that is readily available in classrooms and many households may also support learning initiatives for children with a specific disorder that impact traditional learning.

6. Online Tutoring. The supplemental education services industry is expected to make over $10 billion per year annually in North America by 2017, and it’s no wonder. As students face higher pressures in classrooms, companies like Sylvan and Kumon make millions every year by encouraging parents to bring in their students and pay a premium fee to have them tutored one-on-one.

However, tutoring outside school hours is inconvenient for both parents and students who already have tight schedules. After a day in school, kids are not keen to head back into a traditional learning environment, which can mean a lot of extra tension between parents and kids that surrounds an already-anxious experience.

But what if the same flexibility that is afforded to regular K-12 and college classes was extended to tutoring too? Of course, many online tutoring options are already available but as an industry, online tutoring lacks the sophistication of the larger-scale academic offerings. As demand for this form of flexible learning rises, though, tutoring in remote ways will see a spike in popularity and availability.

Students are already native online learners and virtual tutoring could open the doors for a lot of breakthroughs – and at a greater convenience and lesser cost to students. These emerging companies just need to look for ways to set themselves apart from the outdated model of in-person tutoring to provide the most help and succeed.

7. Cloud computing. When it comes to greater educational collaboration, cloud computing has unlimited potential. This is true for teacher-to-teacher, teacher-to-parent, and teacher-to-student applications. By using a common location, academic expectations can be better accessed, along with actual student work. Instructors can also share learning materials and experiences through the remote opportunities that cloud computing provides.

Simply put, cloud storage saves space, money, and time for teachers, parents, students, and administrators. A report by CDW Government found that over 40 percent of schools use cloud applications to store their data. By 2016, schools are expected to spend 35 percent of IT budgets on the cloud. The savings add up though. Right now, K-12 schools report that their cloud initiatives are saving them an average of 20 percent on IT costs. By 2016, those savings are expected to reach 27 percent.

We are living in the midst of a tremendous upheaval in the fields of technology and communication. There is so much to look forward to when it comes to K-12 classrooms. The seven concepts and technologies that I have discussed will allow educators to better prepare students for the rest of their academic careers and for lifelong success.

Read all of our posts about EdTech and Innovation by clicking here. 

4 Random Facts You Didn’t Know About Community College

Ever since their inception, community colleges have been viewed as the step children of higher education. Sure, anyone with a brain knows the important role that they play in America. However, many people can’t see past their perceived lack of “prestige” or “swagger” if you will. Yet without much acclaim or fanfare, they continue to be the backbone of America’s higher education system.

Here are four facts you might not have known that will change your perception of these schools.

  1. Obama proposed free community college tuition in his State of the Union address this year.

President Obama laid out proposals to revamp the tax code by raising taxes and fees on the wealthiest Americans and largest financial institutes to pay for free tuition for two years of community college.

Obama’s plan would give many people in America the opportunity to receive post-secondary education– something that many people in our country have always wanted, but could never afford.  The President points out that more people will have the ability to obtain a degree, and we will also see a more competitive nation with a stronger middle-class economy.

In his proposal for free tuition, Obama highlights that students would need to maintain a 2.5 GPA, attend at least half time and be on track to graduate on time. The proposal would not be exclusive to recent high school graduates.

The President estimates the cost of the free tuition program at $6 billion a year.

  1. About 7 million students enroll in community colleges—over half of all undergraduates at public colleges and universities in the U.S.

According to Dr. Alicia Dowd, associate professor of Higher Education at the University of Southern California, about 7 million students are enrolled in community colleges. As she says, “[I]t’s not an overstatement to say that community colleges are an integral part of the national narrative in the United States about the ‘American Dream.’ Sandwiched between high school and four-year colleges and universities, they are an important rung in the ladder of our very stratified society and educational system.”

Community colleges are important to many students because of the increased opportunities for success provided by conveniences such as price, flexibility for those with busy work schedules, proximity, and accessibility for non-traditional students.

  1. There are more than 1000 students for every counselor at community colleges.

Budget problems are a real concern at community colleges, according to Dr. Dowd. There are more than 1000 students for every counselor, and in places such as California, 1700 students for every counselor. Figuring out the requirements for a degree, setting up a transfer to another school, or even just going for career advice becomes much more difficult.

Some other practical implications of budget concerns: students are often turned away from classes they need to take because there are not enough seats, and classrooms are overcrowded. These problems all have real-life effects on the quality of a student’s education, and can even affect the timing of completing a degree program.

  1. Over 1/3 of community college students in the U.S. come from California, Texas, Florida, and New York.

Dr. Dowd says that California contains over 20% of all community college students today. California, Texas, Florida, and New York combined enroll over 1/3 of community college students.

All of these states happen to have large Latino populations, and community colleges have made efforts to serve their Hispanic students. However, the diversity of the faculty does not quite match that of the student population. As Dr. Dowd says, “But the number of Latino faculty is still very small and colleges haven’t been intentional about developing their Hispanic serving identity, for example through curriculum development.”

Many Americans wish they could pursue their dream of college education. Community colleges are the key to an affordable one, especially when paired with 4-year college initiatives. Let’s remember them as an option and support initiatives that strengthen them.

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3 Reasons Kids Should Spend More Time in School

In the past, I’ve advocated for K-12 schools to abandon the traditional summers-off school calendar and switch to a year-round one.

There are many benefits to year-round schooling—including consistency, less time spent relearning material, and the implications that year-round schooling has for closing the achievement gap. But there’s another piece to the puzzle that deserves a closer look.

Here are three reasons kids should spend more time in school.

  1. We have too much time off, anyway.

Let’s look at where American schools rank right now when it comes to days in school versus time off. Thirty states require schools to have a 180-day calendar, two ask for more than 181 school days and the rest ask for between 171 and 179 days on the official school calendar each year. Minnesota is the only state in the nation that has no minimum requirement for number of days students are in the classroom (though the state averages 175 school days). This means that in states with the lowest day requirements, students are out of school for more days than they are in it (as many as 194 days per year).

This number contrasts greatly with other developed nations.

Korea has the highest required number of school days (225), followed by Japan at 223 and China at 221. Canadian requirements are close to the U.S., at 188 days, and England is at 190 days. When all developed nations are considered, the international average for days in school is 193 – a full two weeks+ higher than most of the U.S.

  1. Other nations have longer school days than we do.

How long are the school days in places like Korea, China and England? It varies, but it is not uncommon for Korean high school students to spend 16 hours each school day in classrooms. That is more than twice the amount of time that American students spend at school. Maybe this is a bit too extreme, but Korean students consistently rank at the top of developed nations when it comes to subjects like math and science, vastly outpacing U.S. students.

On the other hand, in England, school-aged children spend 6.5 to 7 hours at school – the equivalent of American students. They still spend more days in the classroom, though.

  1. It will help us become more globally competitive.

When comparing the amount of time dedicated to educational settings in the U.S. and competing economies, it becomes glaringly obvious that our standards of what is acceptable in terms of days in school varies greatly from the rest of the world. Even President Obama has been vocal about the need for American schools to add more time in the classroom – either through longer school days or more days on the school calendar.

“Today, it puts us at a competitive disadvantage. Our children spend over a month less in school than children in South Korea. That is no way to prepare them for a 21st century economy,” said President Obama in 2009.

Predictably those comments have received some pushback in the years since, both from parents who believe their children are already under too much pressure at school and need every single day off they are allotted, and from teachers unions who want to know how educators will be properly accommodated for the extra time spent in classroom instruction. The idea of adding more time to student school calendars is an unpopular one – but I’m not sure that is reason enough to rule it out.
Is it time to turn the U.S. K-12 school calendar completely on its head by abolishing summers-off schedules and adding time in the classroom? Would such actions make a significant positive impact on student performance, particularly in STEM topics?

Click here to read all our posts concerning the Achievement Gap.

Top 4 Reasons Colleges Need the Hispanic Community to Thrive

The face of higher education is rapidly evolving as more middle- to low-class young people find ways to obtain a college degree or technical training. The Hispanic population in the U.S. is no exception as the number of college applicants and enrollees increase every year. While these strides benefit this specific group of students, everyone stands to benefit from Hispanic higher education success. Let’s look at why:

  1. Hispanics are the largest (and fastest-growing) minority in the United States. The U.S. Census reports that the estimated Hispanic population in the nation is 52 million – making residents of Hispanic origin the largest minority in the country. In fact, one of every six Americans is a Hispanic. That number is expected to rise to over 132 million by 2050 and Hispanics will then represent 30 percent of the U.S. population. Children with Hispanic roots make up 23 percent of the age 17 and under demographic — making future higher education legislation critical for this growing and thriving minority group.
  2. Many Hispanic college attendees are first-generation college students. Young people of Hispanic origin face specific challenges when it comes to higher education. Many prospective students are first-generation Americans, or even undocumented residents, and do not have the first-hand experience or guidance from parents regarding the college experience in the U.S. Like all other ethnic groups, Hispanic youth face financial difficulty when trying to determine if college is a possibility. Many young Hispanics may feel overwhelmed by the social and financial pressure associated with college attendance and are in need of the right guidance. While higher education initiatives are changing to address these issues, only 13 percent of the Hispanic population over the age of 25 had a bachelor’s degree or higher in the 2010 Census.
  3. The DREAM Act is giving undocumented immigrants opportunities to thrive here in the United States. The Obama administration recognizes the rapid growth of the Hispanic community, specifically as it impacts higher education, and has put several pieces of legislation into motion including the DREAM Act. First introduced in the U.S. Senate in August 2001, the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act was designed to reward children in good standing that came to the country illegally. Temporary residency is granted for a six-year time frame for young people that seek out higher educational pursuits with an option for permanent residency after completion of a bachelor’s degree or beyond.

The bill went through several iterations before President Obama announced in June 2012 that his administration would stop deporting undocumented immigrants meeting DREAM Act criteria. While this legislation applies to more than Hispanic immigrants, they are the group that stands to benefit the most from its enactment. With no fear of deportation, Hispanic youth with higher education aspirations are free to pursue them and work toward a better individual and collective future.

  1. Helping the Hispanic community succeed means helping America succeed. Increasing higher education opportunities for Hispanics has obvious positive benefits for the demographic itself, but the influence will be felt even further. Think of it as a ripple effect, where the Hispanic community represents the initial splash and all other ethnic groups feel the impact too. The Obama Administration has made known its goals to make the U.S. the leader in college degrees earned in proportion to population. In order for this goal to be met, Hispanics (specifically those of Latino descent) will need to earn 3.3 million degrees between now and 2020. The economic success of geographic areas, specifically urban areas, is directly affected by the number of college graduates that study and stay there. In states like Texas, this is an especially poignant point where a one-point college graduate rate increase can result in $1.5 billion more in annual economic activity for cities like San Antonio. Without the help of Hispanic youth, these numbers are difficult, if impossible, to achieve.

Legislation like the DREAM Act is just the start of changing the culture of higher education to be more welcoming to Hispanic youth. Individual colleges and universities must also step up and offer academic and financial aid programs with specific Hispanic needs in mind. The future achievements of higher education in the U.S. are dependent upon the inclusion and success of Hispanic students and the same is true of a stable economic climate. The sooner federal and state initiatives, along with colleges and universities, embrace these inevitabilities, the better.

3 Questions We Should Ask About Preschool

President Obama has been vocal about his belief that a publicly-funded universal preschool initiative is necessary to give American children an academic advantage before ever setting foot in a Kindergarten classroom. A poll conducted by the bipartisan team of Hart Research and Public Opinion Strategies found that 70 percent of respondents were in full support of a universal preschool plan as long as it did not contribute to the national deficit. Sixty percent of the Republicans polled supported the plan, despite its close ties with the Democratic Chief. It is clear that average Americans, despite party affiliation, are supportive of essentially extending the public school system to include preschool-aged students.

With presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and other prominent politicians in favor of universal preschool, it’s time to ask some important questions about what could be yet another large-scale change we make to our public school system.

Here are some questions we need to ask about preschool before integrating it into our current K-12 system:

  1. Does preschool prepare students for kindergarten?

A recent study has found that children who attend all-day preschool are much better prepared for Kindergarten than children who go to half-day programs.

Researchers from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs studied 1,000 3-and 4-year-olds enrolled in 11 Chicago schools. Students who attended preschool seven hours a day were compared to those who attended three hour programs, then tested at the commencement of preschool to see if they were socially and academically prepared to begin kindergarten.

The study found 59 percent of the students enrolled in the half-day program to be ready compared to 81 percent of the all-day preschool attendees.

In the fall of 2012, 78 percent of white students were prepared to enter kindergarten compared to 74 percent of black children and 62 percent of Native American and Hispanic students.

Early childhood education advocates believe this move could help minimize the achievement gap between white students and minority students.

The study’s lead author Arthur Reynolds feels that the state should consider funding all-day preschool programs so all students are ready to learn when they enter school.

  1. Does preschool prepare children for the years ahead?

Studies of federal early education programs, like Head Start, have found that kids entrenched in academics early on show little to no academic advantages compared to kids that started school later. The positive academic impact of early education programs is non-existent by fifth grade. Further, state-based preschool campaigns in states like Oklahoma reveal no real long-term critical thinking or social advantages for the students.

The real question that needs to be answered is whether or not starting kids earlier, across the board, will have a measurable impact on the success of American students throughout their careers. This answer comes with a host of complications though. What specific gains will constitute “success” in a universal preschool initiative? Higher standardized test scores? Better graduation rates? More graduates who go on to earn math and science degrees? Laying out a preschool plan that does not spell out any goals, or steps for achievement, is like sowing seeds haphazardly in a field and hoping something comes to fruition.

  1. Will preschool help underprivileged children catch up?

In some urban areas that endure lower achievement and graduation rates, pre-K programs are considered a tool to help bridge the achievement gap.

Philadelphia schools superintendent William R. Hite stood before the kids and their parents and called for an increase in the amount of resources and educational opportunities for the kids in his school system, particularly the ones who are Pre-K age. Hite said that the difference between children who are able to take advantage of early childhood education opportunities and those who do not really does show up later in the schooling process.

“Quite frankly, it’s the difference between reading at a third-grade level and not. That’s a big indicator for us for future success of a child,” Hite said.

He added that “every single student” should have access to early childhood programs in the state of Pennsylvania— not just a handful.

Meanwhile in New York, an early-education initiative was created to decrease the achievement gap between those growing up in Brooklyn, and those in the world of West End Avenue.

Under Carmen Farina, the schools’ chancellor, more underprivileged children would theoretically be taught the in the same ways the city’s affluent children are: according to the fundamentals of immersive, play-based, and often self-directed learning.

Nearly, if not all, private preschools in New York City align itself with the philosophies of Reggio Emilia, an education model that gained prominence in the 1990s. His belief was that children need some control over the course of their learning and the ability to express their various languages. Art, music and imaginative play take on substantial roles.

With studies showing that Sesame Street teaches children just as well as preschool, it can be easy to downplay the importance of early childhood education in our country. While the results about the effectiveness of preschools are mixed, it is certainly worth considering as a way to even the playing field in public education.

Click here to read all our posts concerning the Achievement Gap.

Top 5 Techniques for Culturally Responsive Teaching

The growing popularity of culturally responsive instruction is slowly causing traditional trends to be reversed. Teachers are increasingly being expected to adapt to the demands of a multicultural classroom. Given the wealth of diversity in our nation’s public schools, it is no wonder that instructional theory is advocating a shift toward a pedagogy that emphasizes a comfortable and academically enriching environment for students of all ethnicities, races, beliefs, and creeds.

Culturally responsive pedagogy is a student-centered approach to teaching in which the students’ unique cultural strengths are identified and nurtured to promote student achievement and a sense of well-being about the student’s cultural place in the world.

Given that a majority of teachers hail from a middle class European-American background, the biggest obstacle to successful culturally responsive instruction for most educators is disposing of their own cultural biases and learning about the backgrounds of the students that they will be teaching. A common side effect of being raised in the dominant European-American culture is the self-perception that “I’m an American; I don’t have a culture.”

Of course this is view is inaccurate; European-American culture simply dominates social and behavioral norms and policies to such an extent that those who grow up immersed in it can be entirely unaware of the realities of other cultures.  A related misconception that many teachers labor under is that they act in a race-blind fashion. However, most teachers greatly overestimate their knowledge about other cultures, which manifests itself in a lack of cultural sensitivity in classroom management and pedagogical techniques.

Here are a few practical techniques to avoid those common pitfalls and become a culturally responsive teacher in an era where this is a necessity:

  1. Get your students’ names right. It may sound simple enough, but a teacher who does not take the time to even know the names of his or her students, exactly as they should be pronounced, shows a basic lack of respect for those students. Teachers should learn the proper pronunciation of student names and express interest in the etymology of interesting and diverse names.
  2. Encourage students to learn about each other. Teachers should have their students research and share information about their ethnic background as a means of fostering a trusting relationship with both fellow classmates.  Students are encouraged to analyze and celebrate differences in traditions, beliefs, and social behaviors.  It is of note that this task helps European-American students realize that their beliefs and traditions constitute a culture as well, which is a necessary breakthrough in the development of a truly culturally responsive classroom.
  3. Give students a voice. Another important requirement for creating a nurturing environment for students is reducing the power differential between the instructor and students.  Students in an authoritarian classroom may sometimes display negative behaviors as a result of a perceived sense of social injustice; in the culturally diverse classroom, the teacher thus acts more like a facilitator than an instructor.  Providing students with questionnaires about what they find to be interesting or important provides them with a measure of power over what they get to learn and provides them with greater intrinsic motivation and connectedness to the material.  Allowing students to bring in their own reading material and present it to the class provides them with an opportunity to both interact with and share stories, thoughts, and ideas that are important to their cultural and social perspective.
  4. Be aware of language constraints. In traditional classrooms, students who are not native English speakers often feel marginalized, lost, and pressured into discarding their original language in favor of English.  In a culturally responsive classroom, diversity of language is celebrated and the level of instructional materials provided to non-native speakers is tailored to their level of English fluency.  Accompanying materials should be provided in the student’s primary language and the student should be encouraged to master English.
  5. Hand out praise accordingly. High expectations for student performance form the core of the motivational techniques used in culturally responsive instruction.  Given that culturally responsive instruction is a student-centered philosophy, it should come as no surprise that expectations for achievement are determined and assigned individually for each student.  Students don’t receive lavish praise for simple tasks but do receive praise in proportion to their accomplishments.  When expectations are not met then encouragement is the primary emotional currency used by the educator.  If a student is not completing her work, then one should engage the student positively and help guide the student toward explaining how to complete the initial steps that need to be done to complete a given assignment or task.  Once the student has successfully performed the initial steps for successful learning it will boost his sense of efficacy and help facilitate future learning attempts.

While popular among educators in traditional classrooms, reward systems should be considered with caution in a culturally responsive setting.  Reward systems can sometimes be useful for convincing unmotivated students to perform tasks in order to get a reward (and hopefully learn something in the process) but they have the undesirable long-term side effect of diminishing intrinsic motivation for learning.  This effect is particularly strong for students who were already intrinsically motivated to learn before shifting their focus toward earning rewards.  Given that one of the prime goals of culturally responsive instruction is to motivate students to become active participants in their learning, caution and forethought should be used before deciding to introduce a reward system into the equation.

A culturally response, student-centered classroom should never alienate any one student, but should bring all the different backgrounds together in a blended format. Teachers should develop their own strategies, as well as take cues from their students to make a culturally responsive classroom succeed.


Culturally responsive teaching is a theory of instruction that was developed by Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings and has been written about by many other scholars since then. To read more of her work on culturally responsive teaching and other topics, click here to visit her page.

5 Facts Everyone Needs to Know About the School-to-Prison Pipeline

Our nation’s public schools play an integral role in fostering talents. They also play a role in building our children’s internal worth. It is therefore not surprising that our schools can assist in reducing our nation’s prison population as well. Here are five facts everyone should know about the school-to-prison pipeline, and how to end it:

  1. An increased prison population costs us all money. Those of us who fall outside the group of perceived misfits who make our nation’s prison population may wonder why the school-to-prison pipeline should matter. Aside from caring about the quality of life for other individuals, there are more tangible issues that arise from this. Each federal prisoner costs taxpayers $28,284 per year, which is about $77 per day.

And that’s just the measurable cost. What isn’t measurable is the indirect impact those incarcerations have on the economy in terms of those prisoners not contributing to the work force.

  1. There is a link between dropping out of high school and going to prison. Sadly, over half of black young men who attend urban high schools do not earn a diploma. Of the dropouts, nearly 60 percent will go to prison at some point. There are also some eerily similar statistics for young Latino men.

In his piece “A Broken Windows Approach to Education Reform,” Forbes writer James Marshall Crotty makes a direct connection between drop-out and crime rates. He argues that if educators will simply take a highly organized approach to keeping kids in school, it will make a difference in the crime statistics of the future. He says:

“Most importantly, instead of merely insisting on Common Core Standards of excellence, we must provide serious sticks for non-compliance. And not just docking teacher and administrative pay. The real change needs to happen on the student and parent level. ”

He cites the effectiveness of states not extending driving privileges to high school dropouts or not allowing athletic activities for students who fail a class. With higher stakes associated with academic success, students will have more to lose if they walk away from their K-12 education. And the higher the education level, the lower the risk of criminal activity, statistically speaking.

  1. Black and Latino men get the short end of the stick as far as this phenomenon is concerned. Aside from the dropout statistics mentioned before, an estimated 40 percent of all students that are expelled from U.S. schools are black. This leaves black students over three times more likely to face suspension than their white peers. When you add in Latino numbers, 70 percent of all in-school arrests are black or Latino students.

If you want to see the correlation between these school-age statistics and lifetime numbers, consider this: 61 percent of the incarcerated population are black or Latino – despite the fact that these groups only represent 30 percent of the U.S. population. Nearly 68 percent of all men in federal prison never earned a high school diploma. The fact that the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world is no surprise and the road to lockup starts in the school systems.

  1. Expectations influence student achievement and behavior. Though all people have genetic predispositions, it is ultimately the environment that encompasses the formative years that shapes lives.

In a blog post by Sally Powalski, a 10-year employee of juvenile facility in the State of Indiana, she addresses what she sees every day: young men with no expectations of improvement and therefore no motivation.

Sally says this of the young men who come through her counselor’s office:

“They have been given the message for several years that they are not allowed in regular school programs, are not considered appropriate for sports teams, and have had their backs turned on them because everyone is just tired of their behavior… Why should they strive for more than a life of crime?”

Sally hits the nail on the head with her observations. Children are just as much a product of their environments as the expectations placed on them. Parents on a first-name basis with law enforcement officials certainly influence the behavior of their children, but school authorities with preconceived negative associations create an expectation of failure too. Increasingly, educators are learning how to recognize the signs of textbook learning disabilities like ADHD or dyslexia. But what about the indirect impact that factors like poverty, abuse, neglect or simply living in the wrong neighborhood have on a student’s ability to learn? Where are the intervention programs that keep these students on academic track without removing them from the school setting?

  1. The current way of dealing with “problem” students is not working. When one student is causing a classroom disruption, the traditional way to address the issue has been removal – whether the removal is for five minutes, five days or permanently. Separating the “good” students and the “bad” ones has always seemed the fair, judicious approach. On an individual level this form of discipline may seem necessary to preserve the educational experience for others.

If all children came from homes that implemented a cause-and-effect approach to discipline, this might be the right answer. Unfortunately, an increasing number of students come from broken homes, or ones where parents have not the desire or time to discipline. For these students, removal from education is simply another form of abandonment and leads to the phenomenon called the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

So what’s the solution? Keeping close tabs on drop-out risks is certainly a step in the right direction when it comes to closing the school to prison pipeline. Better academic tracking, in order to notice areas of potential problems early on, and more mentorship intervention when it comes to discipline issues are also important.

Students who are at risk of dropping out of high school or turning to crime need more than a good report card.  They need alternative suggestions on living a life that rises above their current circumstances. For a young person to truly have a shot at an honest life, he or she has to believe in the value of an education and its impact on good citizenship. That belief system has to come from direct conversations about making smart choices with trusted adults and peers.

What do you think K-12 schools can put in place to increase academic success and close the school to prison pipeline?