Digital Learning

When the Foundation for Excellence in Education released its first “Digital Learning Report Card” in 2011, the state-by-state outlook for ed-tech innovation was worrying. Twenty-one states received failing grades. Four years on, the picture looks very different. While there are still only two states—Florida and Utah—earning A grades, this year’s scorecard shows half of them with improved grades and just five (Connecticut, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, Tennessee) with Fs. Barriers to digital learning are falling fast.

The report card grades states on ten “elements of high-quality digital learning,” including whether students can advance by demonstrating proficiency (not merely by warming classroom seats for enough months) and whether they have the ability to customize their education through digital providers. And of course, the funding and infrastructure must be in place to support digital learning. Broadly speaking, the report praises states for adopting policies that embrace new models and ways of thinking, and shames them if they don’t. States might get dinged, for example, if they restrict student eligibility for online courses (allowing kids only to take online versions of courses already offered in schools seems truly pointless). That said, some of the report’s criteria feel more like an ed-tech enthusiast’s...

Editor's note: This post originally appeared in a slightly different form at U.S. News & World Report.

I wanted to hate this book.

I’m a bit of an education technology skeptic, but I come by it honestly. No field overpromises and underdelivers more than education. And nowhere within education is that more true than among education tech’s various cheerleaders. For years, we’ve heard innovators, disruptors, and paradigm shifters natter on about twenty-first-century skills, flipped classrooms, and the “school of one.” Meanwhile, the experience of school for most kids remains the same, with the same mediocre outcomes year after year. Read my lips: No new TED Talks.

So I confess that I opened Greg Toppo’s The Game Believes in You with an arched eyebrow. I’m not ready to abandon my skepticism entirely, but Toppo made a persuasive case that games do many of the things we expect schools and teachers to do—differentiate instruction, gather data, and assess performance—and very, very well.

He started to win me over by not making the standard, clichéd education tech enthusiast’s argument about student engagement and “meeting the children where they are.” I don’t think...

We recently looked at an analysis of New Orleans school leaders’ perceptions of competition and their responses to it. The top response was marketing—simply shouting louder to parents about a school’s existing programs, or adding bells and whistles. If schools are academically strong, this is probably fine. But if academically weak schools can pump up their enrollment (and their funding streams) by simply touting themselves to parents more effectively than competing schools, then the intended effect of competition—improved performance among all players in the market—will be blunted or absent all together.

In New Orleans, it appears that the more intense competition is perceived to be, the more likely schools are to improve academic quality as a means of differentiation. Is a similar thing happening in the Buckeye State? Here’s a look at some anecdotal evidence on quality-centered competition effects.

New school models

Large urban school districts in Ohio have long decried the students “stolen” from them by charter schools, and nothing rankles diehard traditionalists like online schools. So it was a little surprising to find that Akron City Schools’ proposed 2015–16 budget contains a huge technology component, including plans to start an in-house online charter school....

In his proposed budget , Governor John Kasich calls for the creation of a competency-based education pilot program. Competency-based education is premised on the idea that students only move on to more complex concepts and skills after they master simpler ones. While that sounds somewhat negative at first blush, it also means that mastering current content quickly leads to advancing sooner than the standard march from grade to grade. Kasich’s proposal would provide grants to ten districts or schools that were selected through an application process created by the Ohio Department of Education to pilot the program.

The competency-based model goes by different names in different places. In Ohio, there are schools that already utilize it but call it something different: mastery grading. (Be sure to check out how schools like Metro Early College School and MC²STEM high school, as well as districts like Pickerington, make it work.) Mastery grading assesses students based on whether or not they’ve mastered specific skills and concepts. Instead of an overall grade that takes homework completion, daily assignments, class participation, and test grades that cover multiple standards into account to formulate an average, mastery grading breaks down a student’s...

Discussion of charter schools is everywhere in the Ohio news. Everyone has an angle, including a few unexpected ones:

Just in time for Christmas, my Fordham colleague Mike Petrilli has left a present under the tree for inquisitive children and busy parents who don’t think the sky will fall if the kids get a little screen time now and again (it won’t).

Over the course of a year’s blog posts, and with the help of several able Fordham interns, Mike curated some of the best streaming web videos on Netflix, Amazon, and elsewhere. He then aligned them with the Core Knowledge Sequence, a robust list of subjects from pre-K to eighth grade that undergirds the curriculum at some of the nation’s most successful schools. These have now been repackaged into a neat little website he’s calling “Netflix Academy.” Homeschoolers for whom Core Knowledge is a subject of near-religious devotion will also be grateful for this resource. 

You’ll find videos on science, literature, and U.S. and world history. Click on “Science,” for example, and you’ll see a drop-down menu organized by knowledge domains (aquatic life, mammals, insects, outer space, etc.). Within each domain are direct links to streaming videos from Netflix, National Geographic, PBS, YouTube, and others sources. You’ll also find movie versions of classic children’s...

Next-generation learning models—“technology-enabled” education, if you will—are designed to personalize education in any way necessary to help students at all performance levels meet and exceed goals. As with any innovation introduced into American education, next-generation models have met resistance and in many cases have been either halted altogether or subsumed into the by-the-book system. In their new issue brief, Public Impact’s Shonaka Ellison and Gillian Locke argue that charter schools are the ideal place for next-generation learning models. Charter-school autonomies, inherent in their DNA, provide the best platform for tech-driven innovations like ability grouping, mastery-based promotion, student-paced learning, separation of administrative and instructional duties for teachers, and online learning. The researchers show these practices are carried out in various combinations at a number of charter schools around the country. No mention is made in the brief about solely online schooling, whose model would seem to be synonymous with much of the innovation described here but whose results have too often fallen short of expectations. In fact, having a building in which to attend school seems to be an unstated requirement for creating the type of next-generation models the authors examine. And while Khan Academy and ASSISTments can extend the school...

Note: This post is part of our series, "Netflix Academy: The best educational videos available for streaming." Be sure to check out our previous Netflix Academy posts on Ancient Asian Culturesearly American civilizationsAncient GreeceAncient RomeNative American culturesChristopher Columbus and the Age of DiscoveryColonial America and the Revolutionary Warthe American founders; the Lewis and Clark expedition; the Civil War; movie adaptations of classic children’s booksAmerican folk heroesdinosaursaquatic lifeinsectsfrogs and other amphibiansreptilesbirdsmammalshuman evolutionearthquakes and volcanoesouter spaceand the systems of the human body

This post marks an important milestone: The terminus of our Netflix Academy series. We’ve now covered most of the major topics in the early grades of the Core Knowledge Sequence, save for some subjects on which high-quality streaming video options were scant.

We’ve learned over the course of this year that there’s a lot more high-quality science content on Netflix and Amazon than historical videos, at least for kids. But we’ve also come across some fantastic television shows that are content-rich and easily...

Note: This post is part of our series, "Netflix Academy: The best educational videos available for streaming." Be sure to check out our previous Netflix Academy posts on Ancient Asian Culturesearly American civilizationsAncient GreeceAncient RomeNative American culturesChristopher Columbus and the Age of DiscoveryColonial America and the Revolutionary Warthe American founders; the Lewis and Clark expeditionmovie adaptations of classic children’s booksAmerican folk heroesdinosaursaquatic lifeinsectsfrogs and other amphibiansreptilesbirdsmammalshuman evolutionearthquakes and volcanoesouter spaceand the systems of the human body

Today is the 151st anniversary of Pickett’s Charge, the last Confederate offensive of the Civil War—one that ended in a massive, bloody defeat, now seen as the turning point in that epic conflagration. So it’s as good a time as any to feature educational videos on the Civil War. As has been the case with other historical topics, it’s not easy to find excellent, age-appropriate materials, but we’ve located a few. Of course, because of the nature of the topic, these are surely ones you...

Note: This post is part of our series, "Netflix Academy: The best educational videos available for streaming." Be sure to check out our previous Netflix Academy posts on dinosaursaquatic lifeinsectsfrogs and other amphibiansreptilesbirdsmammalshuman evolutionearthquakes and volcanoes; outer spaceAncient Asian Culturesearly American civilizationsAncient GreeceAncient RomeNative American culturesChristopher Columbus and the Age of DiscoveryColonial America and the Revolutionary War; the American founders; the Lewis and Clark expeditionmovie adaptations of classic children’s books, and American folk heroes.

Throughout this series, I’ve complained about the relative paucity of streaming videos on human history; now it’s clear that there aren’t nearly enough videos on human biology, either. But we found a few, and they are fantastic, particularly the episodes from The Magic School Bus (which is making a comeback!). Enjoy—and, as always, let us know if you find some others, too.

Special thanks to research interns Ashley Council and Liz McInerney for helping to compile these lists.

Best videos on the systems of the human body

 

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