Digital Learning

At last week’s "virtual town hall" meeting to unveil his school funding and reform plan, Governor Kasich asked me to share what I thought was most exciting about his plan. I almost jumped out of my chair with excitement, and responded:“The Straight A Innovation Fund is incredibly exciting…You're going to be freeing people up, and I think there's a lot of untapped energy out in the field that's waiting to, in effect, take charge and take control of the opportunities.”

The Straight A Innovation Fund is incredibly exciting…You're going to be freeing people up, and I think there's a lot of untapped energy

It was hard to believe that an Ohio governor was actually proposing to create an innovation fund and that it would distribute real money: $100 million in FY2014 and $200 million in FY2015. The idea of an innovation fund for reform in Ohio is something the Fordham Institute, Ohio Grantmakers Forum (OGF),[1] and other reformers have been urging since at least 2008. For example, in the OGF report Beyond Tinkering: Creating Real Opportunities for Today’s Learners and for Generation of Ohioans to Come[2], issued in early 2009 and the result of months of input from philanthropy around the state, the first recommendation called for creating “Ohio...

  • Kilgour School in Mount Lookout is creating an after-school app development class for their elementary school students, giving the students one more reason to ask their parents for a smartphone.
  • Governor Kasich unveiled his education reform plan, detailing new funding schemes to distribute state dollars and initiatives that incentivize innovation. Superintendents seem optimistic toward the new plan but eagerly await the specific details for their districts.
  • Analysts say that introducing income-based eligibility to the voucher program will allow 1.8 million elementary and secondary students to qualify for tax-funded tuition to private schools.
  • In an effort to improve academics ahead of the new Ohio standards, Cincinnati Public Schools will expand all of its high schools to teach 7th-12th graders. In this new model, students will be able to start taking pre-algebra as early as seventh grade.

The NYT turns in a piece about TFA, recruiting, and today’s underwhelming job market. This quote from a recent recruit will certainly stir the passions: “It wasn’t until I was desperate that I said ‘I’ll check this out.’” My Bellwether colleague Andy Eduwonk weighs in thoughtfully here. The bigger question, I think, is this: Given the great need for drastic change in our urban school systems, are TFA and the other ed-reform human-capital providers sustaining or disrupting the establishment?

I argue in the Urban School System of the Future that we need to replace big-city districts because they will never produce the results we need. This tragic piece about the mess in Detroit gives another reason for replacement: Many of these districts (possibly including Philadelphia) are on the brink of dissolution due to financial and other pressures. We need to have a Plan B should these systems break down; better yet, we should carefully choreograph their exit so we get ahead of these impending crashes.

MOOCs are all the rage now in higher education (check out this WJS piece). They seem to have countless benefits. The problem is that the technology has gotten...

In the biggest non-surprise of 2012, the U.S. Department of Education rejected California’s request for an ESEA waiver after the Golden State refused to play by Arne Duncan’s rules (i.e., agreeing to the conditions he demanded) in return for greater flexibility. The next move is California’s—do we smell a lawsuit?

In Italy, where job prospects for the young are few and far between, the possibility of landing a rare teaching gig at a public school set off a frenzied rush of applicants. Their Education Ministry has not held certification exams since 1999 (citing budget concerns), opting instead to fill “vacancies with temporary hires, making aspiring teachers and unions furious.” This certainly puts our own problems in perspective.

Education leaders panicking over the Common Core’s shift to online assessments should print out, highlight, underline, and memorize this recent publication from Digital Learning Now!, the third in a series aimed at preparing schools for the Common Core and personalized digital learning. The paper provides two sets of recommendations: one for state and districts making the shift to Common Core and one for the state testing consortia building the assessments.

In a month characterized by tragedy and loss,...

Before we know it, the idyllic, tree-lined university campus with its stately brick buildings, grand lecture halls, and manicured lawns may become a relic of the past. What may prompt the demise of the traditional university? Massive open online courses, or MOOCs.

Whether (and when) this will actually happen was precisely the question at a recent seminar, hosted by The Ohio State University’s Harvey Goldberg Center. It was evident that MOOCs have some in the ivory towers spooked, for two reasons: One, they’re free—and how does one compete against free? Two, elite universities are kickstarting MOOCs. Coursera, of which OSU is a participant, is affiliated with top-notch universities like Stanford and Duke. MOOCs are also catching on in Europe as well. So, unlike for-profit online providers of education, such as the University of Phoenix, MOOCs are both free and linked to prestigious institutions.

Despite the upside to MOOCs, as they’re currently designed, it’s far from inevitable that they’ll outflank the traditional university any time soon. They don’t yet grant credit or degrees, and they certainly don’t field football teams. But, it’s clear they have the potential to send the traditional model of higher education into the artifact...

The remarkable spread of free online courses through American higher education has prompted major soul-searching and some fast footwork among traditional universities and their national organizations.

    Digital learning
    The next step: K-12 MOOCs provided by topflight schools to students beyond their own campuses.
    Photo by poperotico via photopin cc

You can already find “MOOCs” (massive open online courses) on a host of websites, created and delivered by a wide array of institutions and individuals.

As I write, Coursera offers 207 courses, ranging from astronomy to public health, presented by professors at such upscale schools as CalTech, Duke, and Stanford (where, as best I can tell, all this originated—and just a few years ago). Udacity offers about twenty courses, EdX (founded by Harvard and MIT) around ten.

Providers such as these are proliferating and expanding via a hodgepodge of for- and non-profit organizations with offerings that range from free to pricey. And participation is soaring, too. Coursera claims two million course-takers worldwide—and since the courses are online, one can indeed take them anyplace, anytime.

This remarkably...

Admittedly, Andy Smarick is part Luddite.
From Wikimedia Commons.

I just finished reading the Forbes Magazine profile on Salman Khan. You might want to give it a read.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m somewhere between marginally skeptical and cautiously optimistic when it comes to the proliferation of technology to “individualize” learning.

Admittedly, I’m part Luddite and part contrarian, so I’m predisposed to be chary of this entire field for less than noble reasons. But it seems like the only thing more ubiquitous than new ways to deliver content are the apocryphal claims of their revolutionary nature. (Along these lines, I highly recommend Rich Hess’s thoughts on the Khan article and our history of overhyping and misusing technology.)

But I’m slowly being swayed. On the positive side, a bunch of smart people I know are pretty certain that this really is a disruptive innovation and that things will never be the same once parents realize they can truly direct their children’s education. Also,...

This recent Pew study—the first in a series of three on the role of technology in the classroom—investigates how the Internet has affected middle school and high school students’ research skills and strategies. While this survey of 2,500 AP and National Writing Project teachers (presumably those in the most advanced classrooms) does offer a peek into this complicated issue, the window remains opaque: Teachers report complex and contradictory views on how technology has shaped student research. Seventy-seven percent believe that digital technology has had a “mostly positive effect in the classroom,” while 64 percent opine that “technology does more to distract students than help them.” Specific concerns raised by teachers include students’ dependence on search engines (94 percent report that their pupils use Google to conduct research, while only 17 percent report the use of online databases), inability to judge the quality and veracity of information, and perceived loss of critical-thinking skills. But these deficits, the authors suggest, may reflect educators’ and administrators’ own inability to reshape the learning environment to suit today’s connected world—a point with larger implications for teacher training for the modern classroom.

Kristen Purcell et al., How Teens Do Research in the Digital World (Washington,...

One of the many reasons I’m a fan of TBFI is that it conducts two types of policy research that are in short supply. The first, which I will talk about today, is in-the-weeds analyses of subjects that others have glossed over. (The second, studies on subjects we didn’t even realize were important, will be discussed in a future post.)

TBFI's latest in-the-weeds analysis is on teacher-union strength; it goes deeper and reveals far more than the conventional wisdom.

Lots of people talk about the value of tough standards; heck, the “transformative nature” of Common Core has become something between a ubiquitous talking point and Gospel for the reform community. But many of those proselytizing, unfortunately, can’t tell you a whit about what’s actually in these supposedly sacred texts. 

Well, TBFI gets into the weeds of standards; they’ve been doing this for ages, even before Common Core was conceived and birthed (yes, it’s true, academic-content standards existed before CC!). In recent months, they’ve analyzed the rigormeaning, and cost of CC, shedding much light on an important but under-investigated matter.

They’ve done similar digging in on the use of school funds and tech advancements—issues that, like CC, have been given a cursory and...

Digital learning has the potential to revitalize American public education, providing personalized instruction to millions of students. Which doesn’t mean it will cause them to learn much. This report from the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) properly observes that today’s assessment systems cannot provide the data necessary to track the efficacy of online-learning programs. This creates two potential scenarios, both problematic: Digital education could either 1) become ubiquitous but not transformative, as effective programs are not scaled up nor shoddy programs shuttered or 2) be weakly adopted as states restrict options for programs that are unproven. To remedy this situation, iNACOL points to five measures that should be used to evaluate online programs: proficiency levels, individual student growth, graduation rates, college and career readiness (though the authors fail to fully define the term), and reduction of the achievement gap. The authors then offer a number of recommendations for how to operationalize these measures. Among them: Online-education programs need common assessments across most course subjects (and end-of-course exams for all); state data systems must be updated to meet the challenge of collecting, reporting, and passing data between schools and the state; and online-school data should be disaggregated from...