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 areas.


    • 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" their classrooms
    • Migrant students continue a sequential learning program, even as they move to new work locations with their families
    • 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 distance learning
    • 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 so
    • 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 learning technologies.

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 ways:

    • 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

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:

    1. The Star Schools Program improves and provides additional curriculum and instruction for students
    2. The Star Schools Program improves student achievement
    3. The Star Schools Program provides support activities
    4. 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 Program, including:

    • Foreign language
    • Mathematics
    • Science
    • 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 migrant students.

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 classrooms.
    • 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 training
    • Teachers across the country work together, developing a community of learners through networks and sharing their expertise.
    • 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.