Any parent with a child in school in Orleans Parish — or any parish in Louisiana — has likely heard the words “common core.” The new educational standard challenges kids, but also changes how Louisiana kids and school are assessed. Beginning in 2015, many students will take a completely computer-based assessment exam — no filling in the circles, no scantron sheets. That could be a problem for student with limited digital literacy.
In support of this, the NOLA Access Initiative has granted the Center for Development and Learning $25,000 to aid in digital literacy training for teachers.
The Center for Development and Learning focuses primarily on teachers. The grant will be used to expand a pilot teacher-education program held in partnership with Morris Jeff Community School. The course helps teachers learn to integrate technology lessons as part of the general curriculum, as opposed to having separate computer classes for children.
“We achieve our mission (of closing the achievement gap) by providing kids the best education possible, and the person that gives them the best education possible is the teacher,” said Center spokeswoman Keisha Deboulcet.
Deboulcet said that lacking key digital skills, such as typing, can cause a student to perform poorly, even if they understand the material. “When you’re so focused on pecking and typing, where are your thoughts?” she said.
It’s a problem, Deboulcet said, that transcends socio-economic status. Even households with regular access to technology can allow a student to fall behind. “Even the kids who have technology, they do a lot of mouse movements … but I don’t know how many are actually really good at typing.”
The Center chose Morris Jeff Community School as a partner, Dubulcet said, because of its flexible Charter status and its highly-involved principal and parents.
“Education doesn’t happen in a bubble,” Dubulcet said. “It takes a community … I mean, you think about it, you have the business side with NOLA Media Group, and then you have us as being a community-based non-profit organization, and then you have the school with high parental involvement.”
“Students in our community deserve the opportunity to live up to their potential in a digital age,” said David Francis, Vice President and Associate Publisher of NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune. “NOLA Media Group is proud to be a partner with the Center for Development and Learning.”
The program’s expansion is limited by funds, but Dubulcet said the center hopes the program will grow. “You hope that if you can show that this one works, then you can expand.”
Founded in 1992, the Center for Development and Learning has long been focused on closing the achievement gap in Orleans Parish and beyond. Founder and current President and CEO Alice Thomas, M.Ed., began her career as a reading teacher, but saw the need to create an organization that helps teachers develop evidence-based teaching practices to help students learn more effectively. The center has since grown to approximately 12 full-time staff, serving 11 parishes throughout Louisiana. The center prides itself on its “in the trenches” approach to increasing teacher effectiveness.
“Because we’re in the schools,” said Dubulcet, “we get to see what’s missing–what’s lacking.”
In addition to the digital literacy courses, the Center also holds classes and distributes fliers that help ease parents’ transition into the new common core standards. Literacy courses begin at birth, with classes for care providers and parents to help babies up through three years of age prepare for the school environment. Additional education program outline ways for teachers to assist at-risk students. Audits of the program consistently show that approximately 90 percent of the Center’s funding is reinvested into programs and services.
The NOLA Access Initiative serves a 13-parish region around New Orleans, and has already partnered with a number of area organizations. The Center for Development and Learning is among one of the more recent recipients.