Digital Learning

  • Are Duncan’s waivers
    necessary or illegal? Are they both? Martha Derthick and Andy Rotherham offer
    their takes
    on the issue in the latest Education Next. And given that eleven states have just
    filed their early-round waiver applications
    , these are important
  • Nerds in the ranks,
    breathe a sigh of relief for your younger compatriots—those still walking the
    halls of America’s secondary schools. The influx of blended learning and
    tech-enabled education has made
    the need for lockers a thing of the past
    in some schools. Maybe, soon,
    no more pencil-pushers will need to spend third period crammed inside one.
  • You’ve got to give it to
    Californians for thinking outside the legislative box. Last week, a group
    in Los Angeles conjured
    up a forty-year-old law
    to sue the district for not implementing rigorous teacher evaluations. This week, a
    statewide group frustrated with the legislature’s failure to loosen
    restrictions on online learning is grabbing up signatories to a new
    Student Bill of Rights
    that would greatly expand access to digital
  • Education is
    evolving—digital education is blossoming and the
  • ...
Bryan Hassel and Emily Ayscue Hassel

We don’t doubt that the digital future will transform
education—along with practically everything else. But rather than seeing it as
a painful (and politically volatile) trade-off between technology and teachers,
we propose that digital education needs excellent teachers and that a
first-rate teaching profession needs digital education. Schools will not require
as many conventional teachers as they did yesterday, but those they need will
be crucial—and will be able to tap top-notch technology and instructional
support teams to achieve excellence at scale. These teachers will get paid
more, too, potentially a lot more. And all this can be done within tight
budgets so long as education systems judiciously blend technology and people.

Digital learning has the potential to transform the teaching
profession in three major ways:

  • Extending
    the reach of excellent teachers to more students.
  • Attracting
    and retaining more excellent teachers.
  • Boosting
    effectiveness and job options for average teachers.

Extending the reach
of the best.
In the digital future, teacher effectiveness will matter even more than today. As digital learning
spreads, students worldwide will gain access to core knowledge and skills

Paul T. Hill

Futurists 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 students 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

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 reorganizing people.

Our current education-finance system doesn’t actually fund schools and certainly doesn’t fund students.


All this potential notwithstanding, however, plenty of
policy and structural barriers stand...

bonsai tree photo

Get your scissors, we'll show you how it's done.
Photo by Antonio Gonzalez Tajuelo

Like a bonsai, digital education must be
cultivated—with policies that foster its growth and trim its unruly branches. Yet,
too few are ready or willing to tend—and bend—this growing plant. Instead,
divided camps have emerged. One group—balking at the potential loss of rigor,
loss of teachers, loss of interpersonal connections associated with online
schooling—stands ready to uproot the fledgling digital-learning initiative. It
even seems to have the Wall Street Journal
convinced: A WSJ piece from this week
starts off with a vignette of an unmotivated online student who sets aside only
three hours a day for schoolwork, offers critique of the level of
student-teacher communication at Florida Virtual School, and hints at the fear of
for-profit takeover
of the digital-ed realm. In the other camp are those...

Will the move toward virtual and “blended learning” schools in American education repeat the mistakes of the charter-school movement, or will it learn from them?

Try this thought experiment: How much more successful might U.S. charter schools look today if, at the beginning of the charter movement two decades ago, proponents had spent the time and effort to consider what policies and supports would be needed to ensure its quality, freedom, rules and resources over the long term? What mistakes might have been avoided? Damaging scandals forestalled? Missed opportunities seized?

We can’t go back in time for charters but we can be smarter about the next major phase of education reform and innovation: taking high-quality virtual and blended schools to scale—and to educational success. To this end, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, with the support of the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, has commissioned five deep-thought papers that, together, address the thorniest policy issues surrounding digital learning. The goal is to boost the prospects for successful online learning (both substantively and politically) over the long run.

In "School Finance in the Digital-Learning Era", Paul T. Hill zeroes in on the policy area most in need of reform if digital...

Bill Tucker
Managing Director of Education Sector

Guest blogger Bill Tucker, managing director of Education Sector, examines the latest installments in Fordham’s Creating Sound Policy for Digital Learning series in this post, which originally appeared on The Quick and the Ed.

Teachers in the Age of Digital Instruction and School Finance in the Digital-Learning Era,
two new working papers in the Fordham Institute’s series on digital
learning, are welcome additions to the often narrow debates around
online learning.

“Teachers,” written by Public Impact’s Bryan and Emily Hassel, opens
with an important and refreshing perspective: “that digital education
needs excellent teachers and that the teaching profession needs digital
education.” Rather than replacing teachers, the authors see digital
learning as transforming teaching — both by offering tools for
traditional classroom teachers and by enabling entirely new ways of
teaching. Often missing from conversations around technology, the paper
outlines the varied roles that teachers play, including helping with
motivation, social and emotional support, and stretching critical
thinking and analytical skills. It concludes that the future is a much
more differentiated...

Tom Vander Ark
Founder of

In this post, guest blogger Tom Vander Ark analyzes the latest installments in Fordham’s Creating Sound Policy for Digital Learning series. It originally appeared on the Getting Smart blog.

Fordham released two important papers today as part of the Creating Sound Policy for Digital Learning series. The first, Teachers in the Age of Digital Instruction,
is by the co-directors of Public Impact. Bryan and Emily Hassel are the
Malcolm Gladwells of education—they point to profound truths hiding in
plain sight.  In short, this is the best current description of the
implications of digital learning on learning professionals.

The Hassel’s primary assertion is that in the age of digital
learning, “Teacher effectiveness may matter even more than it does
today.” I buy the argument that edtech will increasingly build basic
skill but they run the risk of being trapped in a Rocketship Education
rut—tech does easy stuff, teachers promote critical thinking. That’s one
currently useful pattern, but innovative delivery models are advancing
other alternatives.

Their conclusion that “The elements of excellent teaching that are

Today Fordham is releasing the latest installments in our Creating Sound Policy for Digital Learning series,
offering a glimpse at what the digital future may hold for teachers and
school finance—and addressing potential pitfalls on the way to
realizing that promise. In one paper, “Teachers in the Age of Digital Instruction,”
Bryan and Emily Hassel argue that the growth of digital learning should
greatly alter the roles and compensation of educators—although not
necessarily at the expense of teachers—by “unbundling” their
responsibilities. In the other, “School Finance in the Digital-Learning Era,”
Paul T. Hill warns that the outdated way we fund schools threatens to
cripple innovation in online education. Taken together, today’s
publications present an appealing, 21st-century approach to education—a
future threatened by our existing approaches to teaching and school
funding. Be sure to check out Flypaper over the coming days as experts post their reactions to the release; for now, download and explore the papers yourself....

This soapbox has a great view

Mike and Janie bite off big topics in this
week’s podcast—from the repeal of SB5 to racial imbalances in gifted-ed
programs to online learning. Amber wants CRPE to name names and Chris starts
subbing for the pension benefits. You’re gonna want to sit down for this.

Over the past few months, crusading Idaho state
supe Tom Luna has shepherded a flock of forward-thinking and cost-saving
reforms—including adoption of merit pay and a rollback of tenure and
collective-bargaining rights. Yet amid Luna’s bold reforms hides one black
sheep. If legislators agree in January, Idaho will become the first state to
mandate that all high schoolers take at least two courses online. (Currently,
Michigan and Alabama require students to each take one online course.)

eat your vegetables photo

You will take your online class. And you'll like it.
Photo by Justus Hayes

one of these classes must be “asynchronous”—think more “correspondence course”
and less “virtual classroom.” Gadfly is a firm believer in the potential of digital
learning to expand the reach of fantastic teachers, to individualize
instruction, and to allow for more choice in public education. But the goal
should be to expand access to digital learning, not to require kids...