January 1, 2001
In June 1991 the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in Abbott v. Burke that the state create a funding formula for providing all New Jersey children a "thorough and efficient" education. The state instituted the Quality of Education Act to redistribute funding to its 30 neediest urban school districts for standards-based reforms, early childhood education, teacher professional development, technology infusion, and improved school infrastructure1. One of the programs arising from this ruling is the New Jersey State Department of Education's Technology Literacy Challenge Fund (NJTLCF). Its two key goals are to provide comprehensive access to technology and related professional development in instructional technology and to ensure that students achieve New Jersey's Core Curriculum Content Standards (NJCCCS).
It is within this context that in 1998, Camden Middle School was awarded a $1.8 million grant from the New Jersey Technology Literacy Challenge Fund (NJTLCF) to develop a model technology program that would serve as a "catalyst for teachers, administrators, students, parents, and other members of the community to change and improve the academic climate of Camden Middle School."2 The grant was also intended to promote collaborative relationships between three districts, which contain the highest number of economically disadvantaged youth: Newark, Jersey City (Whitney M. Young Jr. Elementary School), and Paterson (School 4).
Located in Newark and opened in 1973, Camden Middle School serves about 560 students in grades five through eight and has an instructional staff of about 50. The Newark Public School District is the largest, and one of the oldest, school systems in New Jersey. The district has approximately 42,000 students dispersed among 62 elementary school, 4 middle schools and 14 high schools.
Concurrently with the NJTLCF grant, Camden, like all schools in New Jersey, must select a whole-school-reform model. Essentially a whole-school-reform model puts into practice curriculum strategies that have proven effective elsewhere in helping underserved students achieve results. Given the influx of technology into Camden's school, it's management team proposed using the reform model, which seeks comprehensive school change through technology infusion, as a complement to the NJTLCF grant.
In May 1999, the Education Development Center's Center for Children and Technology (CCT) began its evaluation of NJTLCF grant activities at Camden. Our research objective was to understand how teachers, parents, and students perceive technology in their school and community. A combination of qualitative and quantitative research methods was used to collect data about the impact of technology access and related professional development on teaching and learning at Camden Middle School. These included site visits, classroom observations, interviews and focus groups with key project administrators and participants, survey distribution to investigate the following questions:
- What are teachers' professional development needs, and how are teaching styles changing with the infusion of technology?
- What are teachers', students', and parents' expectations of instructional technology, and how do these change as a result of the project?
- How are district curriculum goals and state reform efforts informing project activities?
- What are the barriers to the effective use of technologies in the school?
- How are community-based organizations being invited to collaborate and support the technology effort in the school?
It is clear from our site visits, observations and survey results that the impact of the professional development and the infusion of technology at Camden has had a positive impact on the teachers and students participating in the project. Teachers are enthusiastic about the technology and they are becoming more familiar with implementing problem based learning. Both teachers and students reported that Camden Middle School had changed for the better, and the principal reported increased interest from district teachers in teaching at Camden. With the adoption of the whole school reform model the school will easily evolve into a space for parents, teachers and students that embraces technology throughout the school day. Prior research at CCT indicates that effective implementation of school-change efforts with technology integration takes at least five years. Because of the professional development activities and access to experts the staff has had at Camden, school change has happened at a much faster pace. In addition, more subtle changes were noted by the principal. For example:
- The process of reform was visible at Camden, more so than at any other time in her tenure. She reported that technology had an impact on the schools' reputation in the district and teachers were beginning to deepen their use and understanding of it.
- More students are moving into the school because of the model program and very few teachers are leaving the school for other jobs (unlike other schools in the district, she has a waiting list of teachers).
- Work with consultants was invaluable (i.e. IDE, Seton Hall, CCT etc.), allowing her to have a much broader perspective of her school.
- Collaborations with sister schools in project created valuable connections.