03/25/2015 04:23 pm ET Updated May 19, 2015

Q&A: Eileen Buckley -- EdTech CEO and Former School Admin

Eileen Murphy Buckley, former CPS administrator and founder of ThinkCERCA, has developed a framework that gives teachers a common language and set of practices that can be implemented across subjects to achieve differentiated instruction regardless of classroom set up. In this Q&A, she talks about implementing new systems through EdTech in schools.

What are the challenges to implementing new learning systems in schools?
It's important to make sure that education technology solutions aren't just "one size fits all." The needs of kids across the nation vary widely depending on the student readiness, interest, even access to technology. An edtech company needs to work within many different implementation models to make it work for kids as well as the teachers, in order to empower teachers in their classrooms and help them ignite learning.

At ThinkCERCA, we use the analogy of Lego. We show a variety of pictures on the "outside of the box," but provide the flexibility for teachers to customize, build whatever will make the most sense for their students.

What reforms does teaching need?
Nationwide, schools need to provide kids with new skills to face a changing world: critical thinking, literacy, and problem solving skills are what will allow the kids of today to succeed in the world of tomorrow. The people who are best equipped with the ability to fix that problem are teachers. Teachers are the greatest reformers there are--they are the ones with the power to shape students' learning. Technology should support teaching, which is still a thinking human's job, but should also support the overall instructional plan for the school as an organization.

Sometimes, people think that edtech is about replacing the teacher in front of the classroom with a computer screen. That's not the case. Edtech is a tool for teachers to move inside the classroom, creating a more interactive learning space where they can engage with students on a more personal level. Edtech tools like ThinkCERCA empower teachers. We spark debate and critical thinking in students, and allow school teams to work as a cohesive unit to help students succeed, without sacrificing the special disciplinary knowledge and experiences that help make kids educated adults.

Tell me more about ThinkCERCA. How does it help students/how many schools use it?
ThinkCERCA is a school-wide, online educational resource designed to prepare students in grades 4 through 12 for college, and their careers, by helping them build analytical reading and writing skills across subject areas.

ThinkCERCA provides teachers with 10 levels of differentiated, standards-aligned instruction in English, social studies, and science. Students use our interactive lessons to learn the skills of close reading and argumentation. The paperless grading system helps teachers provide coherent feedback on student writing across subjects, and the analytics allow school leaders to gain insight into teaching and learning in literacy across subjects.

The ThinkCERCA library includes authentic texts with articles that explore relevant topics across the curriculum such as video games, bullying, genetics, and civil rights. These texts are arranged by reading level, so teachers have the ability to select those most appropriate for their students. While reading one of these texts, students begin by making a claim about the text. They're then prompted to support these claims with evidence that they glean from the text, explain their reasoning, and identify and address any possible counterarguments. Finally, students present their argument in an audience-specific way. By engaging with a text through the CERCA process, students experience a deeper level of engagement with the piece, honing their critical thinking skills and developing literacy abilities across the curriculum. They also become valuable participants in collaboration that helps everyone develop the background knowledge they need to learn more.

ThinkCERCA's paid product is in use by 211 schools and its free version is in use by 15,000 classrooms.

What advantages does education reform have through the private sector instead of through politics?
At ThinkCERCA, we support programs that work to encourage literacy and critical thinking in our students. I am a former teacher and director of curriculum in the Chicago Public Schools, and when I left, I realized that the best way for me to continue making a difference in education was to improve the products teachers and students were increasingly being asked to use. Knowing we could do so much more with literacy technology than simply reading and answer multiple choice questions, we took research-based instructional practice and implemented them in technology. I was lucky to be based in Chicago where the startup scene and the combination of philanthropists, innovators, and awesome educators makes it fertile ground for developing truly scalable models of impact on education.

Anything else you want to say/any questions you wished I had asked you?
We now reach 215 schools across 25 states, serving nearly 50,000 subscribing students. Through our free platform, we're reaching 15,000 classrooms and over 100,000 students across all 50 states and 112 countries.