Investigating the Impact of the Cisco 21st Century Schools Initiative on Harrison County School District

October 1, 2009

There are 21 schools in the Harrison County School District (HCSD), located in southern Mississippi, in the Gulfport/Biloxi metropolitan area. Of those, only Harrison Central 9th Grade (HC9) and Harrison County High School (HCHS) participated in the Cisco 21S Initiative-therefore, this summary will focus on only administrators, teachers, technology personnel, students, and parents at those two schools. Unless otherwise specified, statements (e.g., "teachers report") and findings (e.g., "70 percent of students") apply to the combined populations of both schools.

Throughout the four years of the Initiative, the total number of school-level administrators remained constant at seven, two of whom were at HC9 and five at HCHS. Technology personnel also held steady over the Initiative, with two at HC9 and three at HCHS. Teachers at the two schools increased slightly, from a combined total of 146 in 2005-2006 to 157 in 2008-2009. Over the past four years, the number of teachers at HCHS has increased by 10 (94 to 104), while the teaching staff at HC grew by 1 (52 to 53).

Enrollment data for both schools was not available during the first year of the Initiative. Since the 2006- 2007 school year, the number of students has grown at HCHS from 1,577 to 1,872 this last school year, while the number has declined at HC9 from 749 to 724. The overall Harrison County school population in 2009 was 26 percent African American, 68 percent White, and 2.6 percent Hispanic. Fifty-six percent (56 percent) were eligible for free or reduced lunch.

It is important to note that the level of participation at HCHS has changed over time. At the beginning of the Initiative, the entire HC9 population participated, but only a portion of administrators, teachers, and students were involved at HCHS. In the second year, both schools participated fully, a level that has continued to the present. The smaller numbers of participants in year 1 at HCHS should be kept in mind when looking at year-to-year results.

Vision and Leadership

As envisioned by Harrison County administrators, the 21S Initiative would enable the two participating schools to be transformed into places where students could access "cutting edge technology" and "meaningful" instructional materials in order to prepare for their roles as productive members of society.

A clearly defined change management process is essential to effective school reform. While all administrators and the vast majority of teachers surveyed agreed that technology is an integral part of transforming their school, a consistent change process does not appear to be in place. On the plus side, all four administrators surveyed at the two schools said they had created a leadership team in which teachers had a role in shaping the implementation of the 21S Initiative, and three agreed that educators are continually learning and that teachers have input. However, only two said that goals were regularly discussed or that professional development activities were followed up with ongoing support.

In some cases over the past two years, small gains were shown in teachersʼ understanding of administrators-particularly in terms of administratorsʼ goals for student computer use and expectations of studentsʼ use of higher order thinking in their work.

At HC9 and HCHS, as elsewhere, the 21S Initiative was built around three structural components:

  • Connected District/School: The Connected District/School component established a secure and manageable baseline technology platform (data, voice, video, etc.), which encompasses all the equipment and human resources necessary to support all administrative and instructional processes in the school.
  • Connected Learning: The Connected Learning component promoted 21st century teaching and learning through new technologies, instructional approaches, and professional development.
  • Connected Community: The Connected Community component focused on fostering positive relationships between the school and a broad set of stakeholders, including parents, businesses, agencies, and non-profit organizations.

Connected District/School

The 21S Initiative envisions technology as one of the levers of change for transforming low-performing schools into high quality learning environments.

Infrastructure and Tools: As noted earlier, Harrison County chose to concentrate its 21S resources on two schools in which hardware such as interactive whiteboards, LCD projectors, student response systems, laptop computers, and Internet Protocol (IP) phones were installed. Also installed was a wireless network and a new computer lab, and the career center lab was upgraded.

School Access: Most school administrators and technical personnel rated overall technological implementation at or above expectations. Almost all (99 percent) teachers and students said they had access to computers. Teacher access to Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) and video cameras increased over the past year by 12 percentage points and 11 percentage points, respectively. Over 80 percent of students report access to interactive whiteboards, with even greater numbers saying they have access to TV, Internet and computers.

Technical Support: Technology staff report spending the vast majority of their week troubleshooting and maintaining equipment (30 hours), with most of the additional hours devoted to overseeing infrastructure maintenance and selecting/purchasing technology products. Both teachers and administrators overwhelmingly report that technical support meets their expectations and is generally available.

Connected Learning: Educator Outcomes

Professional development intended to improve leadership, streamline administrative practices, increase technology access and integration, and promote student-centered teaching and learning through technology is of central importance to the 21S vision.

Professional Development: Teachers, leaders, and technology staff at the two schools participated in a number of general technology trainings during the summer and throughout the school year, including product-specific trainings, the National Education Computing Conference, Schlechty Center for Leadership in School Reform workshops, and math and literacy sessions.

Almost all teachers at the schools received some form of computer training in 2009, with at least half receiving instruction in the use of presentation tools or interactive whiteboards. Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT) interns, other classroom teachers, or school-based technology staff provided training. Most teachers (70 percent) and all administrators were satisfied with the support from DOT interns, who provided much of the onsite training offered at HC9 and HCHS. They were most satisfied with the training provided by other teachers. All in all, 96 percent of teachers reported that access to instructional technology support was on target or above expectations.

Technology Integration Support: In addition to technological training, teachers said that instructional support was frequently or always available to them.

Use of Data: At HC9 and HCHS, three of four administrators surveyed said that operational efficiency had improved over the life of 21S. All four reported more frequent use of data to make decisions. A large majority of teachers (87 percent) also said data was used to inform their instruction.

Technology Proficiency: Most teachers said they were at an expert level of proficiency in using technology. A large majority of teachers (84 percent) at HC9 and HCHS said they use technology in their classes, with little difference between 2008 and 2007. However in 2009, more teachers report daily use of the following: computers (87 percent), the Internet (77 percent), and interactive whiteboards (54 percent). Other types of technology, however, showed flat or even small declines in use by teachers.The teachers say they use less frequently the following technologies: organizational software, IP phones, and presentation software.

Communication and Collaboration: Teachers generally agree that formal mentoring occurred at their two schools and that they were connected with networks throughout the globe, but felt they did not often meet to exchange ideas or share student work.

Connected Learning: Student Outcomes

To further enhance teaching, the Connected Learning component also aims at improvements in instructional practice, as indicated by student achievement measures (such as test scores, graduation rates, and college preparatory activities) and student engagement measures (such as behavior indicators and absenteeism).

In the 2008-2009 school year, far more HC9 and HCHS students completed a 21S survey than students did the prior year (17 percent, up from 0.3 percent). The difference in completion rates complicates any year-to-year comparisons of survey data, while the low return rates every year (even in 2009) make it inappropriate to generalize the findings to the whole student population.

Student Use of Technology: Administrators feel that students are more Information and Communication Technology (ICT) literate as a result of the Initiative, and large numbers of students (80+ percent) report more frequent use of computers for instructional, research, and presentation purposes.

Student-Centered Instruction: One of the aims of the 21S program is to advance a student-centered approach to instruction through professional development and administrative support. To evaluate the progress of HC9 and HCHS teachers, Center for Children and Technology at the Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC) used a 5-point scale (where 1 is traditional and 5 is student-centered) in which teachers self-assessed their pedagogical philosophy. In 2009, HC9 and HCHS teachers endorsed more student-centered approaches than in the prior year, scoring an average of 3.58, up from 2.26.

Teachers say they used various student-centered learning strategies more often in their teaching, most notably: allowing students to choose their own topics (up 50 percentage points over the prior year); having students conduct research in class (up 15 percentage points), and having students revise their own work products and work in collaborative groups (both up 10 percentage points).

Students report high levels of student agency in the classroom-another important dimension of student-centered learning. They also indicate that they felt supported by at least one adult in their school.

Student Engagement: Significant percentages (75 percent or more) of teachers, administrators, and students feel that students were more engaged as a result of the 21S program. Teachers say student participation in their classes had increased since the 21S Initiative began. And an overwhelming majority (91 percent) of teachers report that 70 percent of their students come to class prepared.

Student Behavior Incidents: A motivated student is less likely to act up in school, so another important measure of student engagement is the number of student behavior incidents. Here the news is quite positive, with overall incidents at nearly a third what they were in the prior year-from 5,214 incidents in 2007-2008 to 1,856 in 2008-2009.

Student Achievement: Test scores are not the only, or even best, measure of 21st century learning, but they do indicate how well students have acquired content knowledge. Over the past two years, there have been small fluctuations in the state test results for both HCHS and HC9 students. For HCHS students, slightly fewer students received passing scores on the English (5 percentage points decrease), biology (4 percentage points decrease), and U.S. history (2 percentage points decrease) exams. HC9 students experienced a negligible gain in biology (1 percentage point increase).

The percentage of HCHS and HC9 students receiving passing scores on the algebra test dropped dramatically in 2007-2008, most likely as a result of changes in the test format that affected studentsʼ scores statewide. In 2008-2009, HC9 students reversed the downward trend in algebra, where the percentage of passing students increased from 69 percent to 88 percent (19 percentage points increase).

Graduation and College Preparation: The graduation rate at Harrison County High School held steady at 80 percent in 2007 and 2008. The number of graduates in those two years was respectively 435 and 405. Although the school did not provide a graduation rate percentage figure for 2009, the number of graduates ballooned to 547. In more qualitative terms, all administrators and roughly 80 percent of teachers say their students were more likely better prepared for college and future employment.

Course Offerings: Offering more diverse courses was also an important component of the Connected Learning inputs. Students were offered more choice in terms of dual enrollment classes, vocational education courses, and college prep work. Dual enrollment and evening classes were offered through the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College (MGCCC), and National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF) certification was available through the Auto Mechanics department. American College Testing (ACT) workshops and advanced placement (AP) classes supported students taking college entrance exams.

One of the more dramatic findings is that ten times as many students took AP courses at the end of the Initiative (60 percent) than at the beginning (6 percent).

Connected Community

The Connected Community component of 21S centers on promoting positive school relationships with parents and the larger community.

Over 17 businesses, institutions of higher education, community groups, and faith-based organizations are working with the two Harrison County schools to realize their vision. Both schools have been working to strengthen partnerships and improve the general ICT literacy of the community. An important contributor to their outreach efforts was the SchoolMessenger system, as parents who answered the survey said that providing online access to grades and assignments was the most successful form of school outreach.

Teachers reported other means of connecting with parents. In a typical two-week period of instruction, 93 percent said they call parents on the phone at least once, 91 percent said they e-mail parents, while 71 percent meet with parents face to face. A nice sign of progress is that 80 percent of the admittedly few parents who completed the survey said they used the website as their most common means of communicating with their childʼs school.

Remaining Challenges

Teachers are not fully aware of what leaders expect of them. On a number of measures, administrators and teachers are out of synch on expectations for teachers to carry out 21S Initiative instructional tasks. In particular, administrators need to more clearly convey what is expected in the areas of using the Internet to post lesson plans, using the Internet to communicate with parents, conducting performance-based assessments, and seeking student engagement.

Barriers to innovation appear to exist in the Harrison County culture. Administrators acknowledged that at both schools there are hindrances to implementing new ideas and that the district did not encourage experimentation.

Teachers reported declines in access in several areas, although the difference was a few percentage points in most of these: interactive whiteboards, Internet, and Internet Protocol (IP) phones. A more significant decrease of 45 percentage points was seen in multimedia presentation tools.

The successful efforts in teacher professional development at HC9 and HCHS do not seem to extend to administrator professional development, as only 50 percent of HCHS and HC9 administrators reported seeing significant change.

Less-than-optimal levels of peer collaboration take place at the participating schools. This may partially account for the fact that all administrators surveyed feel teaching practices are difficult to change.

Providing sufficient technical professional development was a challenge in the district, a fact which seems supported by results from technology staff surveys that showed they had spent no time training or supporting teachers in their use of technology. And although pairing technology staff with Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT) interns has been effective elsewhere, none of the technology staff reported working with them at the two Harrison County schools.

Administrators mentioned that they would like to increase the involvement of local businesses and local institutes of higher learning.

Finally, administrators said they are planning to establish a dedicated technology budget, and seek grants to sustain the Initiative.


Harouna Ba
Terri Meade
Elizabeth Pierson