Reflections on the Star Schools Program
After Eight Years
by Carla Lane, Ed.D.
Throughout history, "stars" have
played an important part in the stories of many cultures. In
these stories, "stars" provide inspiration, guidance
and hope. They are there for all of us -- rich or poor, children
or adults-- wherever we live -- in the urban centers or the rural
countryside. Stars beautify our nighttime sky, help us find our
way, and by our wishing upon them make our dreams come true.
Since its inception in 1988, the Star Schools
Program has been a star, guiding and inspiring teachers, students,
families and distance learning professionals to develop new models
for instruction and training and to use new technological pathways
to reach their educational dreams.
Over the last eight years, Star Schools
has helped us to develop our understanding and use of distance
learning for education and training. Star Schools has shown how
distance education can be used effectively with all students
for virtually all subject matter, in rural, urban and suburban
- Elementary students are beginning to love
mathematics and science, progressing far beyond traditional expectations
- Elementary and middle grade students enlarge
their views of the world by talking with astronauts "visiting"
- Migrant students continue a sequential
learning program, even as they move to new work locations with
- Schools which cannot find or afford additional
teachers for German, Japanese, Spanish, music, art, chemistry,
physics and Calculus, add to their staff and courses through
- Learners of all ages in non-traditional
educational settings in their communities participate in health
and literacy education
- Early childhood educators have state-of-the-art
staff development designed for them
- Elementary teachers who were once afraid
to teach mathematics and science are now excited about doing
- Teachers and administrators have a broad
array of staff development choices and interaction with national
and regional experts
- Parents are provided with opportunities
to learn how to be partners in their children's education
- Cable and public television agencies have
become partners with educators to broadcast Star Schools programs
- Program choices are made at the local
level using a variety of information and technical assistance
from the Star Schools Dissemination Projects
- Three states with state-wide projects
are developing networks to support distance learning
Star Schools helps to develop local, statewide,
and national capacity to produce and receive programming. The
Star Schools Program is there to serve all of us. Over the eight
years of the Program, almost ten million learners have been the
recipients of Star Schools Programming through a variety of distance
In 1996, using satellite delivery of live,
interactive television programs, on-line computer support, and
other advanced technologies, over one million seven hundred thousand
students, teachers, administrators, parents and community members
in the fifty states and U.S. territories are advancing educationally
through the use of distance learning because of model practices
employed by the Star Schools Program. Local staff, students and
parents select nationally-available programs which meet their
local needs, with amazing results.
Learners have been served in the following
- All states and U.S. territories have participated
in Star Schools
- All geographic areas - rural, urban and
suburban - have used Star Schools
- Students in elementary, middle, high school
and beyond have learned from Star Schools.
- Star Schools programming is for all learners,
including LEP, Chapter 1, advanced placement and special education
- Students of all races and ethnicities,
including students on Indian Reservations, have learned from
Star Schools has increased educational
equity for students of diverse backgrounds by providing access
to exceptional course programming for all students. It has enhanced
the viability of rural communities by making it possible for
rural students and their families to stay in the rural communities
in which they want to live without losing equal access to quality
educational services in a range of content topics. Many Star
Schools projects have provided programming that would otherwise
not have been available to students - whether the school is in
a rural, urban or suburban neighborhood.
Studies of Star Schools projects have shown
that the projects provide these improvements and advantages,
which would not have been accomplished without them:
- The Star Schools Program improves and
provides additional curriculum and instruction for students
- The Star Schools Program improves student
- The Star Schools Program provides support
- The Star Schools Program provides effective
student instruction and teacher training
Improves and Provides Additional Curriculum
and Instruction for Students
In national studies of American education
in recent decades, much has been written about how too much of
what is taught in schools is unrelated or unconnected to students'
lives and what is important to them, and that if it were more
connected, literacy and content area learning would be improved.
Distance learning technologies and the Star Schools Program moves
beyond the four walls of the classroom to connect student and
teacher learning to the outside world, and break down the isolation
of the classroom. It allows students to participate in authentic
learning situations. Students talk to astronauts. They talk to
students in other countries to practice languages - one group
worked with students in Japan. They go on electronic field trips
to museums, farms, and other countries. They work and talk with
students across the country.
Many high school students, in traditional
and non-traditional settings, have had access to courses that
would not have been available to them without the Star Schools
- Foreign language
- Health and Literacy
One Star Schools project provides migrant
students with distance learning opportunities to maintain a sequential
learning program even as they move to new work locations with
their families. It provides training to teachers in Texas, Minnesota,
and other areas to develop understanding and skills to work with
As more and more is understood about what
needs to be taught in mathematics and science in elementary schools,
there is a greater awareness in school districts that many elementary
school teachers have not been trained in content or methodologies
to provide this instruction for their students. Star Schools
projects provide programming for elementary students in mathematics
and science to address this issue.
With budget cutbacks and restraints, instruction
in social studies and the visual and performing arts are often
limited. Star Schools projects provide access to artists in the
classroom, development of leadership skills, connection with
important issues of the day, and an introduction to great music
and drama. Without Star Schools, these curricula would not be
available to students in many places in the United States.
Of critical importance, through Star Schools,
literacy and life skills programming are made available in community
settings so students of all ages may access them.
Improved Student Achievement
From studies of Star Schools programs,
there is evidence that:
- Students in Star Schools foreign language
courses do as well as students taking language courses in regular
- Because of Star Schools programming, elementary
students, including Title 1, limited English proficient, advanced,
and special education, have increased their interest and knowledge
in content areas such as mathematics and science.
- Student achievement has increased in content
and skills, critical thinking and problem solving, language skills,
interest in subject area, and quality of work.
Life and Learning Support Skills
- Because of the Star Schools Program, students
have increased their self-esteem, leadership skills, conflict
resolution skills, interest in school, attendance, behavior,
responsibility for their own learning, and confidence as a learner.
- Students have increased their ability
to make the transition from school to work.
- Students communicate with others across
the country developing greater understanding of themselves, students
of other ethnicities and geographic locations, and their country,
opportunities not available to them without Star Schools
- Star Schools has led to a use of multiple
media - video, computer, Internet, and audio conferencing.
- Parents have additional opportunities
to learn how to be partners in their children's education.
Effective Teacher Training
Star Schools provides a variety of effective
staff development experiences for teachers and administrators:
- They have a broad array of staff development
choices to interact with national and regional experts.
- They have opportunities to participate
in programming using an effective new model (developed through
Star Schools) of simultaneous student instruction and teacher
- Teachers across the country work together,
developing a community of learners through networks and sharing
- Teacher training has improved pedagogy,
leading to the use of new instructional methods across the curriculum
and facilita-tion of learning
- Elementary teachers who were once afraid
to teach mathematics and science are now excited about doing
so because of what they have learned through Star Schools.
- Star Schools studio teachers model effective
pedagogy to promote hands-on learning, and model exemplary instructional
practices for classroom teachers.
- Teacher training has helped teachers develop
new uses of technologies to support and enhance student learning.
Star Schools has destroyed many myths about
the uses of technology and distance education. Distance learning
does not establish a "national curriculum," but enables
us to share local programming with others around the country,
as a flexible resource, to be adapted by local users. It does
not replace teachers. It may be used where qualified teachers
in some subject areas are not available, but in others places
it depends on teaming with classroom teachers. Distance learning
does not have to be reserved only for advanced students. It can
provide important learning opportunities to all students, in
urban and rural settings. Evaluators of Star Schools projects
continue to investigate other important questions related to
the use of distance learning.