Digital Learning

This year’s Technology Counts (the fifteenth of its kind from Education Week) is a handy guide to the latest issues surrounding digital learning and will serve both novice and wonk. The collection of ten articles (plus a nifty infographic detailing student, parent, and teacher views on digital ed) covers the major policy issues faced by this nascent movement. (These are mirrored by our own work in this arena.) One article addresses the need for a new funding model for online learning: Most state-run schools, for example, are paid for via a line item on the legislative budget—leaving year-to-year financing subject to politics (and meaning that funding is based on estimated rather than actual enrollments). Others probe issues of governance in online learning. Single-district digital education is on the rise, Ed Week reports—a worrying trend, especially if it hinders students from accessing the best content from other state, national, or international providers. Still others take on the need for more robust data systems and stronger accountability for digital learning. On that front, the authors offer four recommendations: require students to test in person; frequently assess course efficacy, intervening when necessary; collect more data; and use the same accountability measures for both traditional and virtual students in order to allow for side-by-side comparisons. Sensible (if obvious) solutions—but none that aren’t already being implemented by some of digital education’s strongest providers.

Education Week, Technology Counts 2012: Virtual Shift...

The conventional wisdom among reformers today is that “we know what to do, but we don’t have
the political will to do it.” I’d frame it differently: We increasingly have good policies in
place, but we don’t know how to turn them into reality. And because most policies
aren’t self-implementing, we have to solve the problem of “delivery” if reform is going to add up to more than a hill of beans.

Those of us at the Fordham Institute (and our partners at the
Center for American Progress) have been making the case that the governance structures of U.S. public education impede our
ability to do implementation right. Local school districts—with their elected school boards, susceptibility to interest group
capture, and lack of scale—aren’t always inclined or well suited to turn legislative reforms into
real change on the ground. I’ve wondered out
lou
d whether we should
abolish school districts and run the whole kit and caboodle out of state
departments of education.

Think of it as a
private-sector department of education.

That’s still a tantalizing idea, but probably too radical for anyone to
take seriously in the immediate future. So here’s an
alternative: How about creating a “virtual" education ministry that school districts would choose to associate with voluntarily?
(Creating more than one of these entities would even better.) Think of it as a
private-sector department...

Those familiar with our own working-paper series on digital learning may feel a slight sense of déjà vu when
reading this piece by freelance writer and Pioneer Institute contributor Bill
Donovan (who, in fact, references one of our own papers). But for those just dipping their toes into
the digital-learning pool—or looking to stay in the shallow end—this short
paper is helpful. Donovan explains how current funding, enrollment,
credentialing, and accountability policies hinder the growth of online
education, using state-specific examples to illuminate these issues. For instance,
Colorado and
D.C. fund schools based on attendance rates. But what about a child who learns
at odd hours, or off the school calendar, but still chalks 180 days of learning
during the year? Some states fund based on seat time. But what does that mean
for the high-flying pupil who covers two years’ worth of material in a single
annum? Does her school then only receive one year’s worth of funding? In the
end, Donovan offers a number of sane recommendations for policymakers looking
to expand the reach of digital ed: Require that schools generate more reporting
data and devise new tools to analyze these data; create performance-based
“smart caps” for online-ed programs; explore student savings accounts; and
learn from the policymaking experience of charter schools. Concrete and sage
advice, all—but not altogether novel. Donovan and others...

The conventional wisdom among
reformers today is that “we know what to do, but we don’t have the political
will to do it.” I’d frame it differently: We increasingly have good policies in
place, but we don’t know how to turn them into reality. And because most
policies aren’t “self-implementing,” we have to solve the problem of “delivery” if reform is going to
add up to a hill of beans.

Those of us at the Fordham
Institute (and our partners at the Center for American Progress) have been making
the case
that our governance structures impede our ability to do
implementation right. Local school districts—with their elected school boards,
susceptibility to interest group capture, and lack of scale—aren’t always
inclined or well suited to turn legislative reforms into real change on the
ground. I’ve wondered
out loud
whether we should abolish school districts and run the whole kit
and caboodle out of state departments of education.

How about creating a “virtual education ministry”
that school districts would choose to associate with voluntarily?

That’s still a tantalizing idea,
but probably too radical for anyone to take seriously in the immediate future.
So here’s an alternative: How about creating a “virtual education ministry”
that school districts would choose to associate with voluntarily? (Creating
more than one of these entities would even better.) Think of it as a
private-sector department...

Online Learning
The potential of K-12 online learning can't be realized unless we change how we govern education.
.

If policymakers want to see more rapid technological innovation in K-12 education—innovation that works to the clear benefit of students—they will need to take a hard look at how the public education system has managed to forestall innovation for so many years. They will need to consider how that system is structured, governed, and controlled.

It seems inevitable that technology and online learning will play a sizable role in public schools. But without the driving force of competition, this could be a long time coming. At present, online education plays a tiny role in K-12 education. In 2010-11, roughly 250,000 public school students were involved in full-time online education, nearly all through virtual charter schools, not through the regular public school systems.[1] That is 0.45 percent of public school enrollments. Millions more have “computers in their classrooms,” of course, but true “blended” schnoools can be counted on one’s fingers.

Why so slow? Resistance to technological innovation is abetted by one feature of the current public education system, above all others. That is the almost exclusive authority (charter schools being a crucial exception) granted to local school districts to determine how students are educated. School districts...

 

Today, Fordham is releasing the fifth and final paper in its Creating Sound Policy for Digital Learning series, "Overcoming the Governance Challenge in K-12 Online Learning." Online
learning and our current system of local education governance are at odds with
one another, to say the least. In this paper, the Hoover Institute's John Chubb examines how local
school district control retards the widespread use of instructional
technologies. He argues that the surest way to break down the system’s inherent
resistance to technology is to shift control from the local district—and thus
the school board—and put it in the hands of states. He then outlines ten steps
to get us to this brave new governance system:

  • Set K-12 Online-Learning Policy at the State Level
  • Create a Public Market for K-12 Online Learning
  • Provide Students the Right to Choose Online Learning Full Time
  • Provide Students the Right to Choose Online Learning Part Time
  • Authorize Statewide Online Charter Schools, Overseen by Statewide
    Charter Authorizers
  • License Supplementary Online Providers
  • Fund All Learning Opportunities Equally Per Pupil
  • Exempt Online and Blended Teaching from Traditional Teacher Requirements
    Including Certification and Class Size
  • Establish Student Learning as the Foundation of Accountability for
    Online Schools and Providers
  • Address Market Imperfections by Providing Abundant Information
  • ...

Online learning and our current system of local education governance are at odds with one another, to say the least. In this paper, John Chubb examines how local school district control retards the widespread use of instructional technologies. He argues that the surest way to break down the system’s inherent resistance to technology is to shift control from the local district—and thus the school board—and put it in the hands of states. He then outlines ten steps to get us to this brave new governance system:

  • Set K-12 Online-Learning Policy at the State Level
  • Create a Public Market for K-12 Online Learning
  • Provide Students the Right to Choose Online Learning Full Time
  • Provide Students the Right to Choose Online Learning Part Time
  • Authorize Statewide Online Charter Schools, Overseen by Statewide Charter Authorizers
  • License Supplementary Online Providers
  • Fund All Learning Opportunities Equally Per Pupil
  • Exempt Online and Blended Teaching from Traditional Teacher Requirements Including Certification and Class Size
  • Establish Student Learning as the Foundation of Accountability for Online Schools and Providers
  • Address Market Imperfections by Providing Abundant Information to Students, Families, Schools, and Districts

Download the paper to learn more, and be sure to read Fordham’s other papers on this vital topic.

This is the fifth and final paper in a series examining sound digital-learning policy. Previous papers appearing in this series include “Quality Control in K-12 Digital Learning: Three (Imperfect) Approaches” by Frederick M. Hess; “Teachers in the Age of...

Lisa Duty

One could argue that 2011 was the
year of “digital learning” in Ohio and across the nation. In September, the
White House announced its “Digital Promise” campaign, while a number of states
have been embracing initiatives and campaigns in this realm, aided and
encouraged by national groups like the Digital Learning Council and the
Foundation for Excellence in Education. Ohio’s biennial budget launched the
Ohio Digital Learning Task Force and charged it with ensuring that the state’s
“legislative environment is conducive to and supportive of the educators and
digital innovators at the heart of this transformation.”

Our two organizations –
KnowledgeWorks and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute – are committed to seeing
Ohio become a leader in the implementation of digital learning opportunities
for the state’s 1.8 million students. Ohio now stands at an important
crossroads and 2012 could be a pivotal year on whether we move forward in the
digital learning environment.

Our state has been a path-breaker
when it comes to availability of full-time e-school options that leverage
technology in learning. In fact, if all 33,000 children currently enrolled in
Ohio e-schools were in one school district they would comprise the state’s third-largest
district, just behind Columbus and Cleveland. Despite such numbers, Ohio has
yet to harness fully the potential of digital learning for all students. And,
given that digital learning can yield improvements in student achievement...

The
charter-school movement lost much of its first decade to faulty educational
designs. Will digital learning follow that precedent?

The
charter-school movement lost much of its first decade to faulty educational
designs. Will digital learning follow that precedent?

With
the passage of the first charter laws in the early nineties, hundreds of school
entrepreneurs rushed to open schools fashioned on the usual progressive
pedagogies. Many focused on creativity and collaboration, often to the
detriment of core subject knowledge. These new schools, their founders effused,
would be child-centric and engage the whole community. Students would learn
“authentically” and would “discover” the knowledge that “they need.” Teachers
would act as “facilitators.” Never mind that there was scant evidence that this
sort of thing worked, especially for
children in poverty
.

After
the doors of these new charters opened came a long and painful reckoning.
Mismanagement and poor execution were widespread, and the pedagogical choices,
so compelling on paper, often proved heartbreaking in practice. In too many
schools, classrooms were unruly, learning activities chaotic, and test scores
an embarrassment. At many, parents pulled their children; founders were pushed
out. To stay in business, boards of trustees drove a wrenching process of
remaking the schools around proven practices.

A
decade into the charter movement, as states and the federal government ramped
up their results-based accountability policies across public...

ipad

Textbooks won't go extinct anytime soon.
Photo by meedanphotos

Last week, Apple launched two programs
for the iPad that it hopes will transform the textbook industry in the same way
the iPod transformed the music industry. The first, iBooks 2, will make
media-rich electronic textbooks available for purchase on the iPad at a
fraction of the cost of a hard-copy text. (Currently, all titles are available
for $14.99 or less.) The second, iBooks Author, allows anyone to create
textbooks for free using an iMac, and to publish them to iBooks immediately.

There were many skeptics who, when the
iPod was launched a decade ago, believed it would have only a negligible impact
on the way people listened to music. Helping those folks eat their words has
become something of a cottage industry on the web. Just yesterday, tech blogger
and Apple enthusiast John Gruber gleefully
documented
all of the people who underestimated the appeal of the iPhone
and iPad and contrasted them with Apple’s just-announced record-breaking sales
for both products.

And so, I’m loathe to doubt the
transformative power of the iPad in the world of education. After all, if
anyone can transform the textbook industry, it’s Apple. As someone who spent
...

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