Education Reform: E-Learning Can Help Close the Achievement Gap


President Obama is known for being a strong proponent of the use of technology and a strong supporter of education, as evidenced by the $4.35 billion Race to the Top initiative.

The Race to the Top program alluded to the need to leverage technology in order to raise the quality of education in our public school systems. It called for "systems for data-gathering" on student performance, teacher and principal evaluation and change management. Obama knows that education is the gateway to success and that technology can help light the way.

Technology extends the reach of the educator and the administration to increase the breadth and depth of learning. It can improve communication and resource allocation and reinforce traditional classroom study. Technology broadens the educational horizon, complements and supplements lesson plans and can close the gap in learning created by income inequality.

Income impacts where you live and where you live can determine the quality of the school system. The Brookings Institute found that "housing in areas with high-performing schools costs 2.4 times as much as housing in low-performing school districts." Everyone can't live in the best neighborhood and therefore doesn't necessarily have access to the best facilities and resources, but technology can close the gap between the educational have and have-nots.

Technologists and educators are working together to address the need in this space. Dreambox Learning is a software company that "focuses on developing technology that levels the playing field for children of all backgrounds." Dreambox Learning represents the new age of Digital Learning. Digital learning recognizes that there is a "moral and economic imperative to change the way teachers teach and students learn" around the world. Dreambox Learning and other educational technology initiatives provide more efficient use of human and fiscal resources, increase the productivity of teachers and administrators, and, most importantly, create conditions that raise student academic outcomes. Technology does not replace the role of the teacher. Rather it helps to transition the teacher from a passive role of primarily disseminating knowledge to being actively involved in the student's discovery and application of information. To meet more rigorous standards and prepare students for college and a career requires teachers and administrators to embrace technology in a cost-effective and mutually beneficial way.

DreamBox Learning's CEO, Jessie Woolley-Wilson noted, "we want to neutralize the negative effect of a student having a teacher who's early in her practice, or a teacher dealing with too many students." Their software is marketed to schools and individual families and is being used all over the country. The software helps students improve their math skills through an adaptive algorithm that "learns the learner." By analyzing the responses of the student, the software creates a customized learning path and environment that allows the individual to progress at their own pace and appropriate level. "DreamBox's software captures every mouse click students make and can adjust for 60 different parameters of student behavior." The software is fully compliant and aligned with the Common Core State Standards and its K-5 math-learning program has received several prestigious awards. After successfully piloting the software for students struggling in math, Vicki Sacco, the principal of West Seattle Elementary School, purchased a site license for the entire school. In only a year the number of students performing at proficiency levels in math for grades three through five increased from less than 25% to 44%.

The partnership of Dreambox Learning and the West Seattle Elementary School, made possible by a government School Improvement Grant, is just a small example of how technology can help educators and students "Rise to the Top."