At a presentation made in conjunction with ISTE 2013, Joel Hames (shown right), senior product manager for SunGard K-12 Education, made the case that the dream of a 21st-century education has not been fully realized because schools exist at the intersection of politics, culture, and funding— an intersection that currently has no working traffic lights.
“Each direction comes with its own set of requirements for educators, and we have no effective way of reconciling these today,” says Hames. “That understanding begs the question: Is there anything we can do to guide the process and begin to move closer to what we believe our schools should and could be?”
Although politics is a constant influence in education, Hames claims the educational community’s response to political initiatives dictates the degree to which these initiatives help or hinder the educational process.
“Accountability measures ramped up significantly after the publication of A Nation at Risk in 1983. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is, perhaps, the king of all accountability measures,” Hames reflected. “It was an effort that was based in great intentions—equal access to education for all children. The problem that arises, however, is that too often reform efforts like NCLB are at odds with what educational research tells us.”
Culturally, this country’s educational system has essentially remained the same for more than 100 years. Hames noted that recent research suggests the need for dramatic change. “Several key movements rise to the top, including standards-based grading, the evolution of assessment and resultant rise in the quality of formative assessment, and targeted, research-based intervention programs,” he said.
Of those movements, Hames notes there isn’t widespread agreement about standards-based grading in our educational communities, despite evidence that it improves communication and accountability amongst students. “The arguments for standards-based grading are often greeted loudly by the arguments against it,” he says. “Our conversations with school districts have revealed respected leaders in this area who are facing stiff challenges from their communities.”
School funding also is a constant source of tension for districts. “When considering the increased accountability schools face, it is clear that our best intentions can be compromised by inadequate budgets,” he said.
SunGard K-12 Education is seeing the influences of these three forces evidenced in the decisions school districts are making about their administrative software. For example, SunGard has seen a dramatic increase in districts choosing cloud-based delivery over traditional installation.
“Over the first half of 2013, cloud-based opportunities and sales outpaced traditional installations,” says Hames. “This reflects short-term budget considerations as much as it does an increasing confidence in cloud-based delivery. Schools that implement cloud-based solutions not only save in the initial investment (when considering hardware and implementation), but also save on staffing and associated costs.”
Like our clients, SunGard also is experiencing the pressures of these influences.
“At SunGard, we must both respond to the political challenges by supplying the technical tools to accomplish regulatory tasks and serve as confidants when schools are struggling with how to reconcile the work of reporting with the task of educating. We must evolve our systems to support emerging requirements, such as the changing roles of assessment, intervention, and reporting, while understanding that we are all involved in a process of cultural change,” he said. “It isn’t enough to just have features and functions. We have to understand the challenges our customers face and support their work to build something that approximates, or reaches, their vision. And, we have to understand that the financial challenges are great.”
Hames concluded his presentation by committing himself to make a difference and challenging others to do the same. “We’re going to build better systems that enable the transition from traditional approaches to emerging practices,” he said. “What are you going to do?”
Joel Hames is senior product manager at SunGard K-12 Education and a member of the company’s leadership team. Responsible for overall product direction at SunGard K-12 Education, Hames consults with teachers and administrators at school districts across the nation. He then works closely with the company’s product managers, developers, sales team, customer support representatives, and professional services team to ensure that all SunGard K-12 Education applications evolve to meet the challenges school districts will face in the future.
With almost 17 years of experience managing enterprise systems as an information and instructional technology leader at various school districts, Hames brings a wealth of experience and deep understanding to his role at the K-12 administrative software and technology services company. Hames earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University of California, Irvine, and his master’s degree in educational psychology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.