A History of Future Ready Schools - NJ
Meeting the Challenges of a Digital Age
We now live in a digital age, powered by the perpetual advancement of information technology that connects people, ideas, data, and content in rapidly changing ways. The students of New Jersey are growing up in this era of unprecedented connectivity, and so they must be prepared for a life after school that will demand their intimate knowledge and understanding of the technology and tools they are growing up with. Today’s students will enter the workforce and be challenged by the society and economy of tomorrow to continuously push themselves to ever greater heights using the latest technologies. New Jersey must prepare its students to meet the challenges ahead. We must ensure that our schools provide them with the technology-rich environments that they need in order to become engaged and successful members of a digital society and workforce.
Over the last several years, the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE), and the New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA) have been working on projects designed to establish a framework for the transformation of classrooms into digitally enhanced environments that facilitate learning using the same tools and technology that our students will experience when they enter the workforce. These three organizations have now joined forces to support teachers in updating their pedagogy and educational practices by promoting their success as models for other schools through the certification of effective digital learning policies and practices. This program is called Future Ready Schools – New Jersey (FRS-NJ)
NJIT, the NJDOE, and NJSBA are not alone in this mission. Organizations across the country, and the world, are working hard to transform how we educate today’s students, thus better preparing them for their future in this digital age. FRS-NJ is garnering the support of state and national departments of education, major technology corporations, national and local educational associations, and numerous other organizations to broaden the impact of FRS-NJ’s efforts and ensure the program’s success.
What follows is a narrative of how NJIT, the NJDOE, and NJSBA have reached this point of collaboration through the FRS-NJ Certification Program, in the context of state and national events, as well as a look into the future of the program and the impact it can have on education.
ConnectEd and the National Future Ready Schools Initiative
The Future Ready Schools initiative, of which FRS-NJ is built upon, is a direct result of the ConnectEd Initiative, which was announced by President Barack Obama in June of 2013. An integral part of this initiative came out of the U.S. Department of Education’s (USDoE) collaboration with the Alliance for Excellent Education (All4Ed). In November 2014, the USDoE and All4Ed launched Future Ready Schools at “ConnectEd to the Future,” which was hosted by President Obama at the White house, and attended by over 100 exemplary superintendents from across the country. These leaders signed the first Future Ready District Pledge, which “indicated their commitment to develop the human and technological capacity needed to personalize learning using digital tools.”
Future Ready Schools – New Jersey builds upon the model of its national counterpart, enhancing it with a certification program that enables schools to not only track their progress towards Future Readiness, but also to connect with their communities to foster a more comprehensive impact upon students, and their families, by preparing New Jersey’s students for college and careers both at school, and at home.
New Jersey Embraces Digital Tools to Foster Student Success
In 2013, the New Jersey Department of Education launched its own efforts to support schools in making the transition into the digital age by increasing digital readiness for learning and assessment. These efforts came in the form of three initiatives: the NJTRAX PARCC Technology Readiness Survey, technical support to prepare schools and districts for the PARCC assessments, and the DRLAP Broadband Initiative.
Together, these initiatives empowered New Jersey to increase broadband access throughout the state, enabling 99.6% of the students who took the PARCC assessments to do so online, an immense increase from the previous 45% online testing capacity of New Jersey schools. Over two years, DRLAP-Broadband reduced the price of Internet access by 74 percent for 200 participating school organizations across New Jersey, increasing their Internet bandwidth 2.2 times while saving them $109 million.
With the resounding success of the initial NJTRAX and Broadband initiatives, New Jersey was able to shift its focus to helping schools effectively integrate technology into the classroom.
Sustainable Jersey for Schools: A Model for Recognizing Excellence and Supporting Improvement
On June 25th, 2013, the New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA) joined with Sustainable Jersey to, “create a voluntary sustainability certification program… designed specifically for New Jersey’s public school districts and public charter schools.” This program was built off of the pre-existing Sustainable Jersey program that had been established in 2009 to serve municipalities across the state by certifying them for accomplishing various degrees of sustainability. The new program, Sustainable Jersey for Schools, focused its certification efforts on the state’s schools, “providing training, financial incentives and support to develop sustainability programs” at the school and district levels.
In the 2015 round, 59 schools achieved certification through the Sustainable Jersey for Schools program. As of August 2016, over 500 schools, representing 204 districts, have registered for the 2016 round of certifications, and have passed school board resolutions to participate in the program. This is a significant increase in participation from 2015, when 272 schools from 100 districts resolved to participate in the program and registered.
The success of the Sustainable Jersey for Schools program has provided Future Ready Schools – New Jersey with a model to emulate and incorporate into the design and organization of the FRS-NJ Certification Program. Sustainable Jersey for Schools took on the role of promoting sustainable practices, policies, and development throughout New Jersey. FRS-NJ will take on the same role for digital learning, proving the state’s schools and districts with the resources and guidance they need to prepare students for life and work in the digital age.
Technology for Education and Career: Connecting Schools to Digital Learning Technology
The first collaboration between the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) and the New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA) came in the form of the Technology for Education and Career (TEC) program. TEC’s mission is to, “provide[sic] schools with cost-saving alternatives for creating, establishing and continuing the most current digital learning opportunities available for students.” The TEC program was launched at NJSBA’s Workshop 2014 in Atlantic City.
Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, executive director of the NJSBA, explained that, “TEC will give schools the ability to save money on products they currently use, as well as the opportunity to purchase new products at discounted prices.” Facilitated by the NJSBA, and supported by the NJDOE, TEC provides access to technological resources, as well as the support and professional development required to use those resources. The TEC programs continues to help schools and districts save money on, and acquire, the tools, resources, and training to implement digital learning.
With the continuing success of the TEC program, the NJDOE and NJSBA sought to further their impact on digital learning in New Jersey by working together on new projects. Future Ready Schools was identified by these organizations as the next logical step in this mission, and in 2016 they began the initial concept development for a certification program for New Jersey based on the national initiative.
Online-PLC.org: Embracing Digital Tools for Encouraging and Supporting School Improvement
In 2015, the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) came to NJIT for help in advancing a new initiative to provide professional learning resources to the state’s teachers and administrators, and help them guide students towards the achievement goals of the state’s public schools. The NJDOE wanted to employ NJIT’s Online Professional Learning Exchange (OPLE) model to develop Blended Online Learning Modules (BOLMs). NJIT and the NJDOE were joined by the New Jersey Principal and Supervisors Association (NJPSA), and its Foundation for Educational Administration (FEA), to disseminate the Connected Action Roadmap (CAR) model to New Jersey’s teachers and administrators, supporting them with the resources and professional learning needed to form and maintain Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) in schools and districts statewide.
To develop the BOLMs, available to New Jersey teachers and administrators at www.online-plc.org, NJIT and the NJDOE collaborated with educational professionals, school leaders, and a variety of other educational stakeholders, incorporating their perspectives and input into the core design and development of the OPLE. A team of NJIT faculty and staff, led by Dr. James M. Lipuma of the College of Science and Liberal Arts’ (CSLA) Humanities department, developed several ‘courses,’ and a library of resources, for the BOLMs employing NJIT’s expertise in instructional design and in utilizing the tools and technologies of digital learning.
NJIT’s Collaborative for Leadership, Education, and Assessment Research (CLEAR) has since evolved from the team that built the NJDOE BOLMs, and is directed by Dr. Lipuma. CLEAR is contributing their experience and expertise in building digital resources and effectively and efficiently disseminating them, as well as their collaborative and inclusive development strategies, to the Future Ready Schools – New Jersey Certification Program.
Partnering for Progress
In August 2015, the NJIT team led by Dr. Lipuma was referred to the NJDOE’ Office of Educational Technology. Laurence Cocco, the office’s director, and Evo Popoff, an Assistant Commissioner of Education and Chief Innovation Officer, had been working with the NJSBA’s Executive Director for Business Development and Director of the Education Leadership Foundation (ELF) of New Jersey, Patrice Maillet, on developing the foundational concept for a New Jersey Future Ready Schools Certification Program. The NJDOE saw that NJIT had the capacity to help bring such a program to life, and invited the newly formed CLEAR to discuss a possible collaboration with the NJDOE and NJSBA.
After several conceptual discussions, on September 8th, 2015, the NJDOE and NJSBA formally invited NJIT and CLEAR to join in
collaborating to form the newly entitled Future Ready Schools – New Jersey Certification Program. On March 2nd, Education Commissioner David C. Hespe announced the partnership at the State Board of Education meeting. Commissioner Hespe was joined in his announcement of program by NJIT’s President Joel S. Bloom, Dean Kevin Belfield of NJIT’s College of Science and Liberal Arts (CSLA), and the NJSBA’s Executive Director, Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod.
The newly minted Future Ready Schools – New Jersey partnership launched its outreach efforts with a summit at NJIT. The event, “Digital Learning: Revolutionizing Traditional Education,” was hosted by CLEAR, the President’s Office at NJIT, and the New Jersey Black Mayors Alliance for Social Justice (NJBMASJ) on April 7th, 2016. Participants included a cohort of member mayors of the NJBMASJ, their superintendents, as well as several students from each represented district. The community and district leaders were introduced to the Future Ready Schools – New Jersey program and its mission, as well as to the wonders and benefits of embracing digital learning.
Angela Garretson, director for policy and partnerships for the President’s Office at NJIT, mayor of Hillside, and a member of the NJBMASJ presented to the attendees the first Future Ready Schools – New Jersey digital learning pledge, which was signed by many of the leaders present at the summit, signifying New Jersey’s first commitments to becoming Future Ready.
Towards A #FutureReady New Jersey
Future Ready Schools – New Jersey launched at the New Jersey School Boards Association’s Workshop 2016, on October 25th in Atlantic City. The inaugural certification cycle is currently scheduled to begin on May 1st, 2017 and the first schools and districts will be recognized at NJSBA’s Workshop 2017 in October.