Digital Learning

The Education Gadfly

Mike and Rick raise the bar this week, discussing high achievers, Duncan's digital promise, and the textbook-company oligarchy. (Oh, and Rick confesses he has a reform-crush on L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa). Amber tackles minority-teacher retention and Chris dives head first into an NCAA lawsuit.


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Yesterday, the New York Times began a series on technology and education (?Grading the Digital School?) on a decidedly downbeat note: the huge investment in digital technology ? nearly $2 billion a year in software alone, according to the paper -- may not be improving student performance.? [pullquote]?We've jumped on bandwagons for different eras without knowing fully what we're doing. This might just be the new bandwagon.?[/pullquote]

The Arizona school district that reporter Matt Richtel uses to illustrate the lengthy discussion (a front-page story in the Times' Sunday print edition) is the 18,000 student, K-8 Kyrene School District, which has invested $33 million in its digital system since 2005. ??Hope and enthusiasm are soaring,? writes Richtel, ?but not test scores.?

Despite the headlong rush to digitize our schools, there is, as Larry Cuban tells Richtel, ?insufficient evidence to spend that kind of money. Period, period, period.? ?Cuban also pooh-pooh's the ?student engagement? argument for computers. ?There is very little valid and reliable research that shows the engagement causes or leads to higher academic achievement,? he says.

Even Kyrene Superintendent David Schauer has his doubts, telling Richtel, ?We've jumped on bandwagons for different eras without knowing fully what we're doing. This might just be the new bandwagon.?

The story covers most of the essential bases, but, tellingly, makes only glancing references to curriculum. ?The familiar buzz phrases are there ? ?digital devices let students learn at their own pace, teach skills needed in a modern economy...

Guest Blogger

Which of the five states competing to be America's next Education Reform Idol did the most to advance charter schools and private-school choice during the 2011 legislative session? Consider our analysis below, and attend our event Thursday morning (8:30-10:00AM) to see key players in all five states defend their records in front of a panel of ed-reform celebrity judges?Jeanne Allen, Richard Lee Colvin, and Bruno Manno. And click here to cast your vote for Education Reform Idol.


Florida passed three major choice initiatives this year: A charter-school bill that makes it easier for high-performing charters to expand, a pair of voucher programs for students with disabilities and students in low-performing schools, and a digital-learning bill. The digital-learning bill is especially impressive, allowing students to attend publicly funded digital charters as well as requiring districts to offer part- and full-time digital options in grades K-12.


Illinois's Charter School Quality Act allows charter schools to be approved by an independent commission instead of individual school districts. This is expected to be a boon for many rural and suburban would-be charter startups, which have faced fierce opposition from school boards in these areas, and is expected to aid those starting urban charters as well. However, the statewide charter-school cap in Illinois remains a paltry 120.


Indiana passed a charter-school bill that has been...

Guest Blogger

Now that we've reached the age of digital learning and the online university and racism is a thing of the past, is there any place in our society for cursive writing? It's good, though, to see that even academic elites can open up to new things.

-Joshua Pierson, Fordham Intern

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
  • ...

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...