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Posted at 05:47 PM ET, 10/18/2011

N.C. school system offers example of successful digital transformation

This year’s introduction of online social studies textbooks in Fairfax is just the beginning of what officials say will be a profound digital transformation of county schools.

Peter Noonan, assistant superintendent for instructional services, predicts that heavy hardback textbooks will all but be replaced by digital books within the next five years.
Students at Fairfax’s Glasgow Middle School use online textbooks in an American history class. (Tracy A. Woodward - The Washington Post)

In addition, the county is adding offerings to its online campus; Noonan expects that within two years, high school students will be able to earn diplomas entirely via virtual education.

Those are two concrete changes that are easy to imagine, even if the school district hasn’t entirely figured out how to bridge the digital divide between poor and middle-class students. But it’s harder to envision how technology could make big, deep changes that would fundamentally change teaching and learning.

Enter the Mooresville Graded School District.

A working-class North Carolina town, Mooresville has given a laptop to every kid in grades 3-12, and this week Education Week published a story detailing how the 1-to-1 computer initiative has fueled huge achievement gains. It’s worth a read.

As Ed Week reports, the proportion of kids who score proficient on state standardized tests is up a whopping 20 percentage points, from 68 to 88 percent. Over the last four years, the graduation rate has risen 14 percentage points, to 91 percent.

And all of that has happened as the poverty rate grew in Mooresville and the district’s per-pupil funding remained 99th out of North Carolina’s 115 school districts.

Pretty amazing results that have landed Mooresville in the pages of the Wall Street Journal and onscreen on PBS.

The digital conversion has been led by Superintendent Mark Edwards, who has a Virginia connection — he previously headed Henrico County schools, where he implemented one of the country’s first large-scale 1-to-1 computing programs. It’s still going a decade later.

Edwards attributes the success to his staff’s hard work and to his district’s small size — about 5,500 students — which he said allows for rapid and meaningful change.

Teachers and administrators interviewed in the Ed Week piece attribute Mooresville’s success to Edwards and his don’t-take-no-for-an-answer style.

“He just doesn’t allow anybody around him to make excuses or build obstacles,” one principal said of Edwards. “That’s not his ride at all.”

CORRECTION: This post earlier incorrectly said the proportion of kids who score proficient on state standardized tests in Mooresville is up 20 percent. It should be 20 percentage points. It has been corrected.

By  |  05:47 PM ET, 10/18/2011

Tags:  fairfax county public schools, digital learning, henrico county schools

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