The apple is a symbol of knowledge and education, and giving an apple to a teacher is a time-honored tradition, especially at back-to-school time. As we start a new school year, we are excited to give North Carolina K-3 reading teachers apples, but these are not apples from a valley in Henderson County. These are Apples from Silicon Valley – iPads. Kindergarten through third grade reading teachers will receive brand-new devices this year to strengthen literacy efforts in our classrooms.
In my visits to classrooms, I have seen how the use of technology such as iPads helps engage students, reduce burdens on teachers, and allow for more instruction time and less testing. Teachers can track student progress with a few clicks rather than filling out volumes of forms and charts that go in multiple binders. Students can utilize the technology to target their specific strengths and weaknesses between practicing writing, reading books, or working in a small group with the teacher.
Most importantly, I remember the student who, empowered with the help of technology, used an iPad to proudly show me her progress and growth. Her teacher later told me that she rose two grade levels in one year to get back on track. Her success resulted from her own hard work and a great teacher. The iPad she used was also an important tool in this accomplishment, and I wanted to get more of this support into classrooms across the state.
Shortly after taking office as the new State Superintendent in 2017, I realized that past practices at the state education department resulted in funds meant to support K-3 students and teachers getting stuck at the bureaucracy in Raleigh instead of going to classrooms. We corrected that problem.
Last school year, we delivered $200 for each K-3 reading teacher in our public schools. Those same educators will also receive a new set of books for students this year. Further, using those funds, we have partnered with NC State University to create a new, high-quality training program for teachers focused on our youngest students’ reading skills.
Working with the N.C. General Assembly and Apple, we are also using that funding to get new devices in our K-3 classrooms to better support our teachers and continue transforming our education system for the digital age.
My top priorities include ensuring our youngest students can read proficiently by the third grade and reducing the time students and teachers must spend testing. Research shows that reading proficiently by third grade is vital to our students’ success. And, instead of testing just for the sake of testing, we want to give teachers time back to do what they entered the profession to do: teach. These new devices help us move toward those goals.
This year, I am changing past guidance from the state education agency on how teachers should use their devices. We must allow our K-3 teachers more time to focus on instruction, not assessments. We are also encouraging teachers in second and third grades to use a new app for students that replaces formal testing with personalized learning. We will have even more updates on reducing testing to share in the months ahead.
Devices such as these Apple iPads are going to help our students and teachers. Our teachers, leaders, parents, and volunteers are already working hard to foster greater literacy in our youngest learners. Working together, we can all play a vital role in creating a generation of strong readers.
Visit www.read.nc.gov to learn more ways to help young readers reach their goals.
Mark Johnson is the elected superintendent of North Carolina’s public schools. After teaching school in Charlotte and serving on the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School Board, he now lives in Raleigh with his wife and their daughter, who will start kindergarten in August.