Digital Learning

The debates surrounding Ohio’s biennial budget and other education-related legislation during the first half of 2011 were intense, and it’s no wonder. The state headed into the year facing a historic deficit, federal stimulus money was vanishing, and school districts were preparing for draconian cuts. Meanwhile, despite decades of reform efforts and increases in school funding, Ohio’s academic performance has remained largely stagnant, with barely one-third of the state’s students scoring proficient or better in either math or reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Achievement gaps continued to yawn between black and white students and between disadvantaged youngsters and their better-off peers.

 Revised considerably by the General Assembly, Governor Kasich’s budget plan (House Bill 153), a 5,000-page document that both funded the Buckeye State through fiscal year 2013 and included dozens of education-policy changes, was signed into law on June 30. The Ohio House and Senate were also engaged during the spring in passing other legislation that impacts schools.

It’s time to take stock. To what extent have Ohio’s leaders met the challenges and opportunities before them in K-12 education? What needs to happen next?

The Education Gadfly

The following is a guest post from Patricia Levesque, Executive Director of the Foundation for Florida's Future, on why Florida should be considered the reformiest state at our Ed Reform Idol event next week. Contestants from Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin will explain why they should be named the 2011 Ed Reform Idol winner throughout the week.

Don't forget to join us for Ed Reform Idol on August 11 at 8:30AM or watch the webcast live to see which state wins!

This year, Florida launched a new chapter of bold, transformational education reform. As our schools reorganize around the success of every student, the culture of reform in the Sunshine State continues to center on the simple premise that all students can learn. In 2011, Florida challenged the status quo once again and passed landmark teacher-quality legislation, the comprehensive Digital Learning Now Act, and expanded educational choice for families.

Florida's historic teacher-reform bill was our first victory of the year. This legislation recognizes teachers' critical roles in preparing students to excel beyond the classroom and modernizes the teaching profession to reward Florida's outstanding educators. The new bill:

  • Ends tenure for new teachers and eliminates barriers to remove ineffective teachers;
  • Bolsters educators' evaluations by making student learning data 50 percent of the evaluation and creating at least four meaningful levels of performance;
  • Rewards teachers based on student performance through
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Fordham's new paper authored by Rick Hess on ???Creating Healthy Policy for Digital Learning??? is critically important for those of us on the ground working as school administrators, school leaders, charter school authorizers and education policy makers. Rick has articulated the challenges, opportunities, and parameters for good public policy and practices that those of us in the field have been fumbling around for the last few years to come up with through common sense, intuition, trial and error, and luck.

As a charter authorizer, Fordham's experience with digital learning has been humbling and frustrating, in part because we have struggled ??? along with many others ??? to define success for the digital learning programs and policies we have supported. Rick acknowledges how hard all this is in his paper and our on-the-ground experience confirms his analysis.

We have had two direct experiences with trying to help birth quality digital learning opportunities for children in the Buckeye State through ???hybrid??? charter schools. The first was in 2007 when the two schools we authorize in Dayton piloted EdisonLearning's E2 education program. At the time Edison described the effort as a ???multi-million dollar R&D project to engineer whole school design.??? Key to the E2 design was ???a new realm of curricula that is as effective as it is efficient in meeting the individual learning needs of the next generation. Diverse software and web-based applications, like ALEKS, Achieve3000, and Rosetta Stone, expand access to information and offer effective one-on-one instruction...

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The Education Gadfly

After his podcast sabbatical, Rick Hess is back?and he doesn't disappoint. After explaining his new Fordham paper on digital learning, he and Mike discuss the charter-voucher rivalry and what the debt ceiling means for education. (They share a few special moments, too.) Amber dissects philanthropic giving to teachers and teaching and Chri$ scolds Connecticut for its inequitable pension structure.

[powerpress]

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The Education Gadfly

This is a guest post by Tom Vander Ark that was originally posted on EdReformer.

Fordham is launching a series of working papers on digital learning.? Rick Hess makes an important contribution with the first paper focused on quality.

For the hundred experts that contributed to Digital Learning Now this was the thorniest issue.? To a person they expressed interest in quality but wrestled with limitations and barriers of input driven approaches common to education.? The final report points to outcome oriented approaches but doesn't provide much detail.

Hess makes a solid contribution by outlining input-oriented, outcome-driven and market-based approaches to promoting quality.? He makes clear the shortcomings of applying input controls to digital learning.?? Teacher certification strategies don't seem to add much value and attempts to certify teachers in online and blended learning strategies would remain hopelessly out of date with best practice.? ?Applying a textbook review processes to dynamic and adaptive digital content libraries would damper innovation, limit access and do little to assure quality.

Hess is more hopeful about outcome-driven approaches.? But, as?Cisco's John Behrens told me Friday, we're still operating from a data poverty mindset.? I think John would find the outcome section of the paper an example of attempting to use old testing strategies to measure new learning experiences.? ?An example of a data poverty mindset is relying on one...

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Amy Fagan

Today we've published the first of six papers, commissioned by the Fordham Institute, on the topic of digital learning/virtual schooling. The rest of the papers ? each exploring a different angle of this issue ? are set to be released on a rolling basis later this year. In this first paper, Frederick M. Hess of the American Enterprise Institute explores the challenges of quality control.

As Hess notes, ?one of the great advantages of online learning is that it makes 'unbundling' school provision possible?that is, it allows children to be served by providers from almost anywhere, in new and more customized ways.? But taking advantage of all the opportunities online learning offers means that there is no longer one conventional 'school' to hold accountable. Instead, students in a given building or district may be taking courses (or just sections of courses) from a variety of providers, each with varying approaches to technology, instruction, mastery, and so forth?.Finding ways to define, monitor, and police quality in this brave new world is one of the central challenges in realizing the potential of digital learning.?

Hess goes on to present an interesting and thought-provoking paper! Click here to learn more.

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Regardless of your views on the pros and cons of "digital learning" in K-12 education, it's hard to imagine that online instruction, educational games, embedded assessments, and the like won't have a major impact on our school system in the decades to come. But advocates and critics alike worry: How can we ensure quality in this brave new world? Especially when hundreds of millions of dollars of private capital are flowing into the sector from investors dreaming of making big profits?

Enter Frederick M. Hess (a.k.a. Rick, the wicked smart guy in shorts), with a groundbreaking contribution published today from Fordham, "Quality Control in K-12 Digital Learning: Three (Imperfect) Approaches." This working paper is the first in a series of six, generously underwritten by the Helen and Charles Schwab Foundation; the others will look at accountability, cost, personnel policies, and other key issues. [quote]

So what does Hess conclude? Does he hit upon a magic formula that will ensure that all digital instruction is top-notch and reasonably priced, that all children will be 100 percent engaged with their studies, and that there will be a chicken in every pot to boot? Of course not. In Hess's classic skeptical and brutally honest style, he explores the three main approaches to quality control?input regulation, outcomes accountability, and marketplace signal?and concludes that the best we can do is to thoughtfully combine them. Over to Rick:

Education

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Guest Blogger

You can do a lot of things with computers nowadays: Do your homework, balance the budget, unlock the secrets of high-performing charters, even battle school districts. If only computers could help us discover cheating, pass funding bills, or make us environmentally literate.

-Joshua Pierson, Fordham Intern

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In this week's Atlantic, Gagan Biyani, cofounder of Udemy (a web start-up that provides a platform for anyone in the world to build their own online course with video, virtual-classroom sessions, etc.), said:

The price of college is going to fall, and the Internet is going to cause that fall. The rest of it is really difficult to figure out.

Forget that Biyani, or the rest of the article for that matter, is talking about higher education. The quote could just as easily apply to K-12 schooling in the States. The price of educating our youth is going to fall (in terms of per-pupil outlays, not the cost a family incurs to educate their child, as is the case in higher ed).? And the internet (I'm thinking of that term broadly and rather amorphously here to mean everything from broadband to wifi to 4G to superwifi) is going to catalyze that shift.

It all sounds great. And then Biyani hits you with the brick: ?The rest of it is really difficult to figure out.? If this were a grand game of Clue, we'd be missing the murder weapon. It was the Internet, in the classroom, with the? candlestick? (No, that can't be right?)

Along with Biyani's prophesy, though, the Atlantic article hints at one way to use technology to actually disrupt education's stagnant knowledge-delivery model. Beginning with MIT and its OpenCourseWare project, many elite colleges have started making lectures, slides, tests, and discussion-section material for various...

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