Data scientists from MIT, inventors from Silicon Valley, Emmy-award winning illustrators and experienced educators have agreed to help Idaho increase student achievement.
A team of experts developed a sophisticated online software program that gathers and analyzes school data. Called Clarity for Schools, it tracks data and offers a customized-plan for school improvement. Clarity provides a data-driven view for educators to see their strengths and their gaps in teaching and learning.
“We are people who care about kids, and if kids are using technology in ways that are meaningful,” said Rob Mancabelli, CEO and co-founder of BrightBytes, the San Francisco company that invented Clarity.
Boise State University’s Idaho Leads project has contracted with BrightBytes to provide technology audits for the 64 districts and charters participating in the project. The offer is free to those schools that volunteer.
“A district leadership team should look at this and say ‘this will help me do my job better’,” said Idaho Leads co-director Lisa Kinnaman said.
Gooding School District Superintendent Heather Williams, who has been an active member of the Idaho Leads project for 18 months, said her “interest has been piqued” on the idea of using Clarity. “Any time you can look at data and evidence of what’s happening in your district, we will do a better job,” she said.
The Idaho Leads project hosted a conference Aug. 14-15 in Boise for the 64 superintendents, board members and educators who made the commitment to participate in the project over the next school year. Mancabelli gave a presentation of what technology and Clarity can do for schools in Idaho. He said educators should be doing things in classrooms that aren’t possible without technology.
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“We’ve created BrightBytes to solve two of the toughest challenges schools face with technology — using it effectively in the classroom and measuring the results,” he said. “I’m excited to share this product with Idaho because I know how much it will improve student outcomes at schools.”
Mancabelli and Hisham Anwar co-founded BrightBytes almost two years ago with the mission to improve the way the world learns with technology.
“The impact of the Internet on learning has been profound. In the last 15 years, the sum of all human knowledge has been placed online, along with 2 billion people who can teach it to you. Schools are just starting to think about the transformative implications this global learning network has on traditional forms of teacher and student learning.” Mancabelli said.
Mancabelli and Anwar met during a masters program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), one of the most prestigous schools in the country. Mancabelli was an educator for the past 15 years and Anwar a technologist in Silicon Valley, Calif.
“Our backgrounds and lives had nothing in common,” Mancabelli said. “But we hit it off because we share the same philosophies and goals.”
They teamed up to earn MBAs at MIT and then to start their own company. They didn’t take job applications for positions, but instead searched for the “world’s best talent” and personalities to compliment their team.
“We stalked people on Linkedin,” Mancabelli confessed. “When I called potential candidates, I could tell in 30 seconds if they were going to fit in.”
Everyone on the BrightBytes team has extensive education resumes and impressive career paths. For example, Chief Learning Officer Gayle Allen has been a teacher, administrator, professor and founder of two professional development institutes. She, too, earned an MBA from MIT. Also on the team are software architects, designers, educators, data scientists and even a nuclear physicist who analyzes data.
“These groups of people don’t normally cross paths,” Mancabelli said. “Our meetings are a think tank among bright minds from a variety of important fields with the shared goal of improving learning.”
What BrightBytes has done
Thousands of United States’ schools and millions of students are using Clarity. Iowa has contracted to use the product statewide. Mancabelli said his company is in conversations with six other countries, including Australia and India, and there is potential for a roll out in China.
“We predict that one-in-three schools in the United States will be using our product by mid-2014,” he said.
In one of the earliest rollouts of Clarity, over 150 schools near Harrisburg, Pa., began to collect data on technology and learning. The analysis and recommendations in the Clarity platform prompted changes in professional development, leadership training, technical support and other school processes.
“For us, it built a sense of urgency,” said Richard Fry, the superintendent at Big Wood Springs, Pa., who spoke to the Idaho crowd via Skype. “Not that we were behind, but we found we needed to more forward more quickly.”
Mancabelli said BrightBytes has a 100 percent renewal rate.
How Clarity works
The Clarity platform uses data from a verity of sources to form a portrait of the school. Among the types of data that can be collected and analyzed are student record data, questionnaire data, socioeconomic data and demographic data. The questionnaire makes sure that student and teacher voices are included in the data collection. The survey takes about 15 minutes and for students, the questionnaires are interactive with rocket ships and cartoons.
After the data is collected, Clarity converts this data into visual displays of graphs and pie charts designed by a creative team led by Vanida Vae, an Emmy-award winning designer in data visualization.
Finally, Clarity creates dozens of customized reports for each school that details possible solutions and implementation plans.
The platform is designed to capture the link between school technology and student achievement.
“The data will illustrate what a school needs, not just what a school thinks they want,” Mancabelli said.
The software program is intuitive and comes up with “insights” that school leaders can consider. At one school, the data produced this insight: 16 percent of students don’t have technology at home and of those students, 50 percent said they are not allowed to take home a piece of technology from school. The data will show a student’s access to technology.
“That’s a powerful item for a school leader to consider,” Kinnaman said.
Clarity has a “solutions library” that has resources, including project plans, implementation phases and real-school examples of success. It also offers cautionary tales of what could go wrong.
“We say all the time that our platform has to close the loop —tools tied to solutions, based on data,” Mancabelli said.
Idaho Leads project
The Idaho Leads project is a professional development team focused on building leadership capacity and implementing Idaho Core Standards. Forty-nine districts and charters participated in the project’s first round, which ran from January 2012 through May 2013. The project, funded by a grant from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation and housed in the Center for School Improvement and Policy Studies at Boise State University, was expanded to 64 districts and extended for another school year.
“This is an incredible opportunity to increase learning for all kids,” Kinnaman said. “I believe Idaho will lead the country in improving academic achievement through innovation in teaching and learning.”
Disclaimer: Idaho Education News and the Idaho Leads project are funded by a grant from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation.