Digital Learning

The central problem besetting K-12 education in the United
States today is still—as for almost thirty years now—that far too few of our
kids are learning nearly enough for their own or the nation’s good. And the
gains we’ve made, though well worth making, have been meager (and largely
confined to math), are trumped by gains in other countries, and evaporate by
the end of high school.

From where I sit, the basic strategies
aren’t ill-conceived. Rather, they’ve been stumped, stymied, and
constrained by formidable barriers that are more or less built into the
K-12 system as we know it.

This much everybody knows. But unless we want to live out
the classic definition of insanity (“doing the same thing over again with the
expectation that it will produce a different result”), we need to focus
laser-like on the barriers that keep us from making major-league gains. If we
don’t break through (or circumnavigate) these barriers, academic achievement
will remain stagnant.

The barriers I’m talking about are not cultural issues,
parenting issues, demographic issues, or other macro-influences on educational
achievement. Those are all plenty...

Ron Packard
CEO of K12 Inc.

Guest blogger Ron Packard is CEO of K12 Inc.,
the country’s largest online learning company. In this post, he
responds to criticisms of the effectiveness and cost of K12′s schools
raised in a
New York Times report last week.

In September of 2011, I was invited by the New York Times to speak at the paper’s Schools for Tomorrow
conference. It brought together educators, philanthropists, and leaders
in the public and private sectors to discuss how America’s education
system can better educate students and prepare them to compete in a
global economy. To sponsor the event, the Times reached out to
leading education and technology companies including Intel Corporation,
McGraw Hill, and the company I founded and lead, K12 Inc. The goal of
the conference was clear and unequivocal: “To harness the power of
technology to improve the learning experience. Democratize access to
quality education. And elevate the American student to a higher level.”
At the conference there was universal agreement about the urgency to
innovate in the public education system; the need for a shift from
one-size-fits-all education...

Whether you consider today’s New York Times article on a “hit piece” (Tom Vander Ark) or a “blockbuster” (Dana Goldstein), there’s little doubt that it will have a long-term impact on the debate around digital learning. Polls show
that the public and parents are leery of cyber schools, and this kind
of media attention (sure to be mimicked in local papers) will only make
them more so.

But just as these criticisms aren’t going away, neither is online
learning itself. The genie is out of the bottle. So how can we go about
drafting policies that will push digital learning in the direction of

This is something we at Fordham are thinking a lot about, and we’ve published three papers (so far) in our series, Creating Sound Policy for Digital Learning: Rick Hess on quality control; Paul Hill on funding; and Bryan and Emily Hassel on teachers. And in January, we’ll publish an analysis by the Parthenon Group of what high-quality fulltime online learning really costs.

I’ll leave it to others to rebut the Times’ extremely
selective use of data, expert opinion, and...

Be sure to check out the latest edition of Education Week, featuring a commentary by Paul T. Hill
on the need for school funding reform in order to unlock digital
learning’s full potential. The Center on Reinventing Public Education
director sums up many of his ideas from last month’s “School Finance in the Digital-Learning Era” paper, part of Fordham’s Creating Sound Policy for Digital Learning
series, which outlined the need for a streamlined funding model where
money follows students and encourages edtech innovation. If the EdWeek essay piques your interest, download the full paper and read more by Hill from last week’s Rethinking Education Governance conference....

“Selling Schools Out: the Scam of Virtual Education Reform.” The headline gracing the cover of the Nation’s December 5 edition does a pretty good job conveying the nuance and objectivity to be found in its expose of the digital learning landscape,
a sprawling indictment of online schooling in general. Author Lee Fang
describes a corrupt alliance of think tanks, politicians, lobbyists, and
private companies intent on recklessly promoting an unproven education
model for corporate gain. Their coordinated efforts, to hear Fang tell
it, have resulted in a “legislative juggernaut” that loosened
restrictions on virtual schooling in thirteen states in 2011 alone,
triggering a “gold rush of investors clamoring to get a piece of the
K-12 education market.”

It’s certainly an entertaining read, complete with union busting,
multiple “infamous” operatives, online smear sites, and an
arch-villain—the “Man Behind the Virtual Curtain”—Jeb Bush. Yet for all
its supposedly incriminating audio files and closed-door meetings, the Nation piece is more about ideology than scandal. Education Sector’s Bill Tucker took Fang to task
for omitting and mischaracterizing public sector innovation in online
schooling to...

Paul T. Hill
director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education

Guest blogger Paul T. Hill is the director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education and the author of a recent paper in Fordham’s Creating Sound Policy for Digital Learning series, “School Finance in the Digital-Learning Era.”

have long regaled us with predictions about technology dramatically
improving education by giving millions more students access to the very
best teachers and deploying computer-based systems that allow them to
learn at their own pace at whatever time and place works best for them.
This vision is now becoming a reality, partly because tight budgets are
forcing K-12 schools to employ fewer teachers and boost the productivity
of those who remain.

Saving money is only part of technology’s educational potential,
however. More important is individualization and rapid adaptation to
what a student is learning, leading to the possibility of greater and
more consistent growth. Managing equipment, web links and vendor
contracts is also far nimbler than re-organizing people.

All this potential notwithstanding, however, plenty of policy and
structural barriers stand in the way of widespread...

Education technology is a hot sector for innovative entrepreneurs and ambitious investors. While interest and investment in digital education skyrocket, though, the inflexibility of the existing school funding system may stifle its potential—at least according to Paul T. Hill in “School Finance in the Digital-Learning Era,” the latest installment in Fordham’s  Creating Sound Policy for Digital Learning series. As Hill writes,

Our system doesn’t fund schools, and certainly doesn’t fund students. Yet to encourage development and improvement of technology-based methods, we must find ways for public dollars to do just that—and to follow kids to online providers chosen by their parents, teachers, or themselves.

The paper, released Wednesday, argues that unlocking the vast potential of digital learning requires streamlining funding into a “backpack” model where dollars follow individual students, allowing families to select from a robust and diverse range of digital and traditional educational options. Download the paper to find out more, and explore expertsreactions on Flypaper....

Yesterday, the Fordham Institute released the latest papers in its Creating Sound Policy for Digital Learning series, including Bryan and Emily Hassel’s “Teachers in the Age of Digital Instruction.” 
Digital learning is often portrayed as a threat to the teaching
profession, swapping teachers for computers in order to cut budgets. 
The reality, the authors argue, will be both more complicated and
rewarding for educators:

We have little doubt that the digital future will
transform education.  But rather than an either-or decision between
technology and teachers, we propose that digital education needs
excellent teachers and that the teaching profession needs digital

Download the paper to learn more, and keep an eye out for expert reactions on Flypaper over the next few days....

Tom Vander Ark
Founder of

In this post, which originally appeared on the Getting Smart blog, guest blogger Tom Vander Ark analyzes Paul T. Hill’s paper, “School Finance in the Digital-Learning Era,” the latest installment in Fordham’s Creating Sound Policy for Digital Learning series. Click here for his analysis of “Teachers in the Age of Digital Instruction.”

second paper released yesterday deals with the digital learning
implications for school finance. Author Paul Hill leads the Center for
Reinventing Public Education. His work over the last two decades has
done more to shape my views about how to design delivery of public
education than any other scholar. Like the Hassels’ paper, the
recommendations presented in School Finance in the Digital-Learning Era are well aligned with the recommendations of Digital Learning Now.

Dr. Hill lays out in some detail all the ways that the current
haphazard system is “stacked against innovation.” Rather than tinkering,
Paul suggests that states should “start from scratch and create a new
school-funding system.” He suggests a central design principal, “Make

At least the Occupiers have good fashion sense

With the closing of Zuccotti Park, Rick is back
with the podcast in full force—shorts, Birkenstocks, and all. He talks with
Mike about Fordham’s new digital-learning papers, union/school-board incest,
and our parenting problem. Amber reads from the digital-learning encyclopedia
and Chris gives corporate sponsorship an A-plus.