The Wingspread Conference on Technologys Role in Urban School Reform

October 1, 2000

The Joyce Foundation convened the Wingspread conference to generate knowledge and ideas to inform its future funding of educational technology partnerships. As facilitator, the EDC Center for Children and Technology (CCT) worked to identify important areas for future work and further collaboration among participants, as well as to create a framework describing the practical and conceptual relationships for technology in urban schools that are focused on substantially improving learning opportunities for students.

We brought together approximately 45 people for this discussion, including current Joyce Foundation grantees, teachers, district administrators, researchers, education advocates, federal and local policymakers, grantmakers, and journalists. All attendees were engaged in defining new ways of working across the research, practice, and policy arenas to improve the quality and scope of technology use in the service of urban school reform.

We invited conference participants to consider two focusing questions:

  • What roles can technology play in supporting the processes of urban school reform - in particular, in supporting effective learning for all students?
  • How can and should we address the challenges involved in achieving equity and quality learning for all students?

The conference was framed by a set of white papers distributed before the opening session. The authors were asked to write about one of a set of familiar, persistent challenges to making technology use equitable and high-quality in school contexts. These challenges included:

The importance of leadership. Successful investment in technology for learning requires a sustained commitment and a clear vision across multiple levels of the district. High rates of turnover at both district and school levels, conflicting educational priorities, and complex political landscapes all work to impede effective leadership regarding educational technology implementation. Given these realities of school and district staffing, how can educators most effectively take on and sustain leadership roles in their own communities?

Responding to accountability and assessment pressures. Teachers often find that technology can most effectively support types of student work, such as original inquiry and the creation of complex work products, that are not easily captured in lowest-common-denominator assessments such as standardized tests. Testing pressures often encourage teachers to stick with drill-and-practice uses of technology, away from more challenging ways of integrating technology into their curricula. How can schools be supported in finding constructive responses to the pressures of high-stakes testing and accountability measures?

Sharing teacher knowledge and practice. Across many promising models of teacher and administrator professional development, the question persists of how to leverage expertise developed in individuals. The need for professional development related to technology continues to grow rapidly, mirroring the high levels of financial investment being made in and the high expectations of hardware, software, and Internet access in schools.

Making connections to policy. While many school districts have learned a great deal about understanding technology as a diverse set of tools to be carefully and thoughtfully integrated into curriculum, policymakers treat technology as a single, uniform intervention into schooling that can and should produce a single, uniform set of clear outcomes. Practitioners and researchers are struggling to find ways to communicate effectively to policymakers about their successes with technology in the classroom, and about the level of investment required to sustain their work. How can findings from work that bridges research and practice more effectively inform policy - what strategies are we not using that could help this work have more impact?

Balancing scale and localization.Translating the lessons learned in one site to others continues to be an unmet challenge. How do we identify and spread best practices while maintaining a commitment to localization and the importance of context and ownership? We know that scaling these models of success requires striking a balance between tailoring programs to meet local needs, priorities, and constraints, and committing to core qualities and best practices that are key to the nature of the original program. Creating a process that achieves this balance is a critical part of scaling the many promising practices that already exist in urban schools across the country.

Much of the work of the conference took place in small groups tasked with devising inventive scenarios involving rich partnerships and collaborations around the use of technology to improve and enrich teaching and learning. We believed that stakeholders addressing these issues in different domains could develop more effective ideas when collaboratively approaching similar goals from different perspectives. Much of our conversation focused on defining the characteristics of effective partnerships. Two goals emerged as salient to all participants:

  • Improving the ability of researchers, policymakers, and funders to think and work locally to address the needs and priorities of educators
  • Improving the infrastructure for communication, dissemination, and the sharing of expertise to decrease the isolation in which many of these parties work.

This report presents revised versions of the white papers that framed discussion at the conference, as well as a concluding paper that reflects on these goals.


Derek Mitchell
Louis Gomez
Barry Fishman
John Lee
Jane David
Margaret Honey
David Greene
Katherine Culp
Anthony Wilhelm
Joan Herman
Saul Rockman