Education leaders: Missouri's eMINTS program improves student engagement

Wednesday, September 19, 2012 | 5:36 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA – Missouri educators shared promising anecdotes and some concerns about the enhancing Missouri's Instructional Networked Teaching Strategies programs implemented in their schools at a roundtable discussion Wednesday with a representative of the U.S. Department of Education.

eMINTS essentially attempts to incorporate technology into public school classrooms. The technology comes in the form of SMART Boards, data projectors and a student-to-computer ratio of 2-to-1.

During the discussion at MU, educators from school districts in Moberly, Franklin and several other communities said the program has improved student engagement.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Tony Miller, who was scheduled to be part of the discussion but couldn't make it, said in a later phone interview that technology in the classroom is able to provide students with interactive material that makes the classroom experience much more student-centric.

Technology is also a cost-effective way to enhance the experience of students. Miller said schools can access information easily that they otherwise wouldn’t have.

If a school doesn’t have the resources to hire a biology teacher and one teacher is teaching many subjects, Internet access allows that teacher to have more expertise in a particular area and a way to present it to students, he said.

At the roundtable discussion, rural educators in Missouri raised the concern that a lack of resources could hamper their ability to sustain the technology-centered approach of eMINTS.

They cited access to high-speed Internet in their communities as a roadblock. Miller said the level of high-speed Internet access in rural areas is far from where it needs to be.

As a solution, Miller said Comcast, an Internet-provider, has a program that offers broadband to low-income families at $9.95 per month. Families who qualify for the National School Lunch Program qualify for the reduced rate.

Although they raised concerns, administrators also reinforced that they want to keep using eMINTS.

Another positive about the program was the effect it had on the teachers who taught in classrooms with the technology.

A couple of educators said they had teachers who had been working for almost 20 years who changed their teaching philosophy because they saw the improvement in student engagement.

However, Gena McCluskey, the superintendent of Moberly School District, said some of her teachers retired because they couldn't adjust to the eMINTS system.

Miller also answered a couple questions over the phone about the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

He said the current system of evaluating student success makes it difficult to assess how a student is performing in school. A program that assesses growth needs to know from what point a student is starting.

For instance, when a student enters fifth grade, tests assume that student reads at a fourth-grade level. This can set students who read at a third-grade level up for failure, he said. Teachers need a way to assess that and address it accordingly.

As a possible solution, Miller cited classroom technology that allowed all students to answer a question so a teacher knows which student knows what answer.

Miller said it’s important that states have control over their curricula because what works in one state won’t necessarily work in another.

He also stressed the importance of transparency with public schools in terms of parental involvement. If parents have access to more information about their children’s schools, they will be more active in their children’s education, he said.

The roundtable discussion was part of the U.S. Department of Education’s "Education Drives America" bus tour. U.S. Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement Jim Shelton was at the discussion.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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