Arizona’s Future: Beyond Textbooks

More from this show

In a new Arizona Horizon series, “Arizona’s Future,” we look at innovations leading to improvements in a variety of areas, including education. In the Vail Unified School District in southern Arizona, teachers and district officials have created a web-based solution to help meet Common Core standards. The site provides lesson plans and data that educators can use to meet the standards, and any educator can add resources, lesson plans or ideas to the site. It’s being used by 77 traditional public school districts and eight charter schools in Arizona. Kevin Carney, executive director of Beyond Textbooks, will explain how the site helps teachers improve their teaching abilities.

Ted Simons: Tonight we debut a new segment on "Arizona Horizon." It's called "Arizona's future," and it's designed to examine new and innovative ways of moving the state forward. We start with education, and an idea developed by the Vail unified school district in southern Arizona. "Beyond textbooks" is a program that provides online content for teachers instructing students on common core curriculum. Joining us now is Kevin Carney, the executive director of "beyond textbooks." Good to have you here.

Kevin Carney: Thank you for having me, Ted.

Ted Simons: Give me a better definition of beyond textbooks.

Kevin Carney: Sure, you bet. What beyond textbooks is it's a solution to a problem that we were experiencing in Vail over 10 years ago. We were a struggling school district of the 13 neighboring school districts around us. We ranked just about dead last in every major statistical category when it came to student achievement. We set to put frameworks in place to improve and in fact we did that. Fast forward 10 years later, we were ranked as the number one school district in the state for consecutive years. We were having some really good success with these frameworks and we talk about going beyond the textbook. It used to be when I was teaching, that the textbook told you what to teach and when to teach it and it was your guide. As we realize, it is not just about the materials, it's about effective frameworks, research-based frameworks to improve. Because we got such great results, we had a lot of other school districts around the state come visit us and say what are you doing? They heard about beyond textbooks and said can we tap into this? We digitized our whole framework. We said, sure, why not? Fast forward, here we are, five years later, we have now 100 partners around the state. 85 school districts, 15 charter schools who are tapped into this framework.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about the framework now. It sounds like it helps teachers implement common core lesson plans. Do they get the lesson plans and other things online? What exactly does a teacher do?

Kevin Carney: One of the things as a former building principal that I would tell my teachers is, guilty as charged. We will continue to put more things on your plate and it is going to be tough to take things off. But I promise you I will always work to make things more efficient for you, because if I can make things more efficient, that is like saving you some time and taking things off your plate. So what beyond textbooks does, is there's a digitized framework, a wiki. I heard in the last segment Wikipedia brought up, so think of that, or think of the iPOD if you will. The iPOD revolutionized the way we look at our music, our videos. It's cuz we put all of those things in one place and catalog it by: jazz, country, rock & roll. Then in our rock & roll playlist catalog it by Green Day and the Rolling Stones. So what we do is we take all of the standards that teachers have to teach, put them into this digitized wiki, and then teachers upload resources that are congruent to the specific WIKI. So there's efficiency for teachers and planning and more resources available to them.

Ted Simons: Obviously when you say teachers have their own volition, they are allowed to be creative within this framework.

Kevin Carney: That is the whole thing that we really are big believers in. We want to control the what. We say, hey, here are the state standards. This is what you have to teach. We want to control the when. We have something that we use in education jargon that we call curriculum counters. Here's what you are teaching, when you are teaching approximately and for how long. We want to leave the how up to teachers. We believe it is hard. Teaching is a creative endeavor. When it comes to resources, we share if you find something beyond textbooks to use to teach your students, super. Don't limit yourself to that. It is not one stop shopping. So if you want to use something from your old textbooks, something you find on beyond textbooks, or create on your own or find on the internet, as long as it is congruent to this standard and it's a correct level of rigor, then we say knock yourself out. You're the king or queen of the castle. You choose the resource that can best for your students to learn.

Ted Simons: Let's say I find something that works out great. Can I upload that to the framework, to the web site to add to -- I mean, is there a lot of sharing and collaboration going on here?

Kevin Carney: Absolutely. With our 100 partners now, we are serving over 100,000 children across Arizona. As a matter of fact, we have the first out of state partner in the state of Wyoming. There are 10,000 teachers tapped into this online WIKI. An example of the power of it: My wife taught in the Vail school district for 10 years. She then went to teach another grade level after teaching 10 years of fourth grade, she went to teach third grade. I don't have third grade stuff, what do I do? Well there's this dynamic teacher in Wickenburg, he is putting resources on the WIKI all of the time. Take a look at his stuff. You can find his contact information. Reach out to him. Long story short, she would tell you if she was sitting here today Ted, that that gentleman saved her life in teaching third grade that year.

Ted Simons: We are talking lesson plans and other data. Are these things accessful-- if I'm a teacher, I'm in the classroom, do I have my laptop here? Can I get to those right there and then?

Kevin Carney: That is a great thing. When I used to be in the classroom, I would tell my family goodbye every Sunday after my favorite team of football ended the day, I'd go and say that is where all of my stuff is I have to go to school. The great thing now is you have an internet signal, you can plan any time and anywhere which again creates more of those efficiencies I was referring to.

Ted Simons: What are you hearing from teachers? Any push-back on this? Any slow rollers here?

Kevin Carney: Absolutely, any time you have change involved, people attack change differently. You have people ready to jump in the pool and swim right away. People put a toe in. And people say I don't want to swim. And people out in the car, hey, swimming, I'm not into that. I would rather play soccer. A part of our piece that we work with, partners, is gaining that buy-in. Because we know that without that buy-in there won't be the success we would like to see.

Ted Simons: Reaction from students, reaction from parents?

Kevin Carney: In terms of those pieces, beyond textbooks is mainly an educator piece. What I mean by that is you and I both fly. When you fly you listen to the preamble, here is what to expect in case of an emergency. Give oxygen to yourself first and then to the elderly or kids. This tool is about helping educators on a secondary level, certainly students and parents are impacted by that. But we're seeing some really good results. Here is what it means. At the top five school districts in the state, three use the beyond textbooks framework. Of the top 10 school districts ranked by the Arizona department of education, four use the beyond textbooks framework. We are seeing some really great results. The other piece that comes along with that, students and parents go, hey, I'm excited to see my kid learning more and being more successful in the classroom.

Ted Simons: Is this the future of educational textbooks?

Kevin Carney: In terms of an educational textbook, I think that we have a role that is an important role to play. As people take a look and, for example, the common core and they say, well, the government is overreaching and we're worried about large organizations and businesses being hand in hand with the government. We offer a different perspective. Not to say we believe there is anything is wrong with it, I'm giving you a lot of people's views on a particular piece. Instead what we offer, we're actual practitioners. We work within schools, within classrooms, not somebody who hasn't taught or hasn't been in the classroom for 15 or 20 years. We offer a viable alternative. It is a teacher-made system. That's the greatest strength behind it.

Ted Simons: With that in mind though, what about oversight? Who holds whom accountable?

Kevin Carney: Sure. In terms of the content that teachers might upload into that WIKI, we have a staff, who part of their responsibility, they vet those resources for a variety of pieces to make sure that they're not violating copyright issue, they're aligned with a certain standard, things of that nature. In terms of holding people accountable in terms of student achievement, talk about it all of the time with partners, a good idea poorly implemented is ultimately a bad idea. I have been in 300 schools across Arizona. Four things we discovered, ultimately lead to great results for schools or not. Great leadership, quality staff, a systematic approach, and fourthly a community that expects things of you. With regard to holding folks accountable, ultimately if the leadership of an organization, district, or charter school is not adept at pushing change forward, getting all of the players on board, setting clear goals and monitoring adjusting correctly, they don't have as good a result as you might see in other places.

Ted Simons: Last question. You talk about results. These days results are usually letter grades, numbers, something along these lines.

Kevin Carney: Sure.

Ted Simons: But is this program helping kids learn? Just in general. Not so much to take a test -- just -- is it a good thing in a classroom to get a little mind going?

Kevin Carney: Yeah, and with regard to that, I would say a couple of things. One is this. My own kids, two of my three kids, I have a son who is 27 now. But two of my three kids are in the Vail school district now. I see on a firsthand basis the impact that the education, frameworks that we're providing them are helping them in terms of what they're learning. Mainly want to share with you absolutely it is indeed helping. That being said, curriculum at the end of the day is never going to rule. It is all about those folks that can motivate us. The old saying, you can't have a kid's mind unless you have their heart first. Ultimately you need passionate teachers who can spark fires in kids that will best motivate them and help them to learn.

Ted Simons: The goal of this segment is to look at the future of Arizona, innovative new ideas to lead Arizona into the future. Sounds like you're well on your way. Congratulations.

Kevin Carney: Thank you, thank you. We're very fortunate. Great success comes about of hard work, expertise and good fortune and we have had all of those thankfully.

Ted Simons: Thank you for joining us.

Kevin Carney: Thank you as well.

Kevin Carney:Executive Director, Beyond Textbooks;

airs Feb. 28

Desert Dreams: Celebrating Five Seasons in the Sonoran Desert

Barry Gibb singing (Bee Gees: In Our Own Time)
aired Feb. 24

Bee Gees: In Our Own Time

A cute little duckling with text reading: Arizona PBS Ducks in a Row Event
March 6

Getting Your Ducks in a Row to Avoid Conflict When You Are Gone

Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson
aired Feb. 23

The Highwaymen: Live at Nassau Coliseum

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters

STAY in touch

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters: