Digital Learning

On Fordham’s Boards Eye View blog today, Hoover scholar John Chubb made the case that states should relieve local school boards of the authority to govern student access to the burgeoning online learning market and expose school systems to more disruptive innovations. A new analysis of virtual education trends from the Evergreen Education Group gives us more evidence that districts may be unwilling to give up their authority easily.

This year’s “Keeping Pace” report from Evergreen gives us a snapshot of online and blending learning practices and tells us that the fastest-growing segment is coming from single-district programsthose run by one district for that district’s students. While it’s satisfying to see more districts embrace digital learning programssome with the purpose to compete with state-run virtual schoolsthese are school systems that are drawing boundaries around a practice that should be boundless.

These aren’t examples of disruptive innovations. These are not all fully online programs, but rather mostly blended models that combine face-to-face learning with virtual instruction that is mostly supplemental. This is not surprising, given that districts are serving only their own students, many of whom are at-risk and take advantage of online instruction mostly for credit...

John Chubb is CEO of Leeds Global Partners and a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution where he is a member of the Koret Task Force on K-12 Education. He is co-author with Terry Moe of Liberating Learning: Technology, Politics, and the Future of American Education and author of "Overcoming the Governance Challenge in K-12 Online Learning."

If a public school student wants to take an Advanced Placement course from Apex Learning, a respected provider of online AP instruction, who should determine whether the student may do so? Today, the answer is almost uniformly, the local school board (or charter board) that governs the student’s school. Should it be so?

States have long delegated to local boards the authority to determine how students satisfy state standards such as graduation requirements. If a student wants to meet a state standard by some means other than what his or her school is offering, local board policies determine whether the student may. This makes a certain amount of sense. Students and families may want an option of dubious academic value.

But boards may decide these matters with more on...

This year’s Technology Counts (the fifteenth of its kind from Education Week) is a handy guide to the latest issues surrounding digital learning and will serve both novice and wonk. The collection of ten articles (plus a nifty infographic detailing student, parent, and teacher views on digital ed) covers the major policy issues faced by this nascent movement. (These are mirrored by our own work in this arena.) One article addresses the need for a new funding model for online learning: Most state-run schools, for example, are paid for via a line item on the legislative budget—leaving year-to-year financing subject to politics (and meaning that funding is based on estimated rather than actual enrollments). Others probe issues of governance in online learning. Single-district digital education is on the rise, Ed Week reports—a worrying trend, especially if it hinders students from accessing the best content from other state, national, or international providers. Still others take on the need for more robust data systems and stronger accountability for digital learning. On that front, the authors offer four recommendations: require students to test in person; frequently assess course efficacy,...

The conventional wisdom among reformers today is that “we know what to do, but we don’t have
the political will to do it.” I’d frame it differently: We increasingly have good policies in
place, but we don’t know how to turn them into reality. And because most policies
aren’t self-implementing, we have to solve the problem of “delivery” if reform is going to add up to more than a hill of beans.

Those of us at the Fordham Institute (and our partners at the
Center for American Progress) have been making the case that the governance structures of U.S. public education impede our
ability to do implementation right. Local school districts—with their elected school boards, susceptibility to interest group
capture, and lack of scale—aren’t always inclined or well suited to turn legislative reforms into
real change on the ground. I’ve wondered out
lou
d whether we should
abolish school districts and run the whole kit and caboodle out of state
departments of education.

Think of it as a
private-sector department of education.

That’s still a tantalizing idea, but probably too radical...

Those familiar with our own working-paper series on digital learning may feel a slight sense of déjà vu when
reading this piece by freelance writer and Pioneer Institute contributor Bill
Donovan (who, in fact, references one of our own papers). But for those just dipping their toes into
the digital-learning pool—or looking to stay in the shallow end—this short
paper is helpful. Donovan explains how current funding, enrollment,
credentialing, and accountability policies hinder the growth of online
education, using state-specific examples to illuminate these issues. For instance,
Colorado and
D.C. fund schools based on attendance rates. But what about a child who learns
at odd hours, or off the school calendar, but still chalks 180 days of learning
during the year? Some states fund based on seat time. But what does that mean
for the high-flying pupil who covers two years’ worth of material in a single
annum? Does her school then only receive one year’s worth of funding? In the
end, Donovan offers a number of sane recommendations for policymakers looking
to expand the reach of digital ed:...

The conventional wisdom among
reformers today is that “we know what to do, but we don’t have the political
will to do it.” I’d frame it differently: We increasingly have good policies in
place, but we don’t know how to turn them into reality. And because most
policies aren’t “self-implementing,” we have to solve the problem of “delivery” if reform is going to
add up to a hill of beans.

Those of us at the Fordham
Institute (and our partners at the Center for American Progress) have been making
the case
that our governance structures impede our ability to do
implementation right. Local school districts—with their elected school boards,
susceptibility to interest group capture, and lack of scale—aren’t always
inclined or well suited to turn legislative reforms into real change on the
ground. I’ve wondered
out loud
whether we should abolish school districts and run the whole kit
and caboodle out of state departments of education.

How about creating a “virtual education ministry”
that school districts would choose to associate with voluntarily?

That’s still a tantalizing idea,
but probably too radical...

Online Learning
The potential of K-12 online learning can't be realized unless we change how we govern education.
.

If policymakers want to see more rapid technological innovation in K-12 education—innovation that works to the clear benefit of students—they will need to take a hard look at how the public education system has managed to forestall innovation for so many years. They will need to consider how that system is structured, governed, and controlled.

It seems inevitable that technology and online learning will play a sizable role in public schools. But without the driving force of competition, this could be a long time coming. At present, online education plays a tiny role in K-12 education. In 2010-11, roughly 250,000 public school students were involved in full-time online education, nearly all through virtual charter schools, not through the regular public school systems.[1] That is 0.45 percent of public school enrollments. Millions more have “computers in their classrooms,” of course, but true “blended” schnoools can be...

 

Today, Fordham is releasing the fifth and final paper in its Creating Sound Policy for Digital Learning series, "Overcoming the Governance Challenge in K-12 Online Learning." Online
learning and our current system of local education governance are at odds with
one another, to say the least. In this paper, the Hoover Institute's John Chubb examines how local
school district control retards the widespread use of instructional
technologies. He argues that the surest way to break down the system’s inherent
resistance to technology is to shift control from the local district—and thus
the school board—and put it in the hands of states. He then outlines ten steps
to get us to this brave new governance system:

  • Set K-12 Online-Learning Policy at the State Level
  • Create a Public Market for K-12 Online Learning
  • Provide Students the Right to Choose Online Learning Full Time
  • Provide Students the Right to Choose Online Learning Part Time
  • Authorize Statewide Online Charter Schools, Overseen by Statewide
  • ...

Online learning and our current system of local education governance are at odds with one another, to say the least. In this paper, John Chubb examines how local school district control retards the widespread use of instructional technologies. He argues that the surest way to break down the system’s inherent resistance to technology is to shift control from the local district—and thus the school board—and put it in the hands of states. He then outlines ten steps to get us to this brave new governance system:

  • Set K-12 Online-Learning Policy at the State Level
  • Create a Public Market for K-12 Online Learning
  • Provide Students the Right to Choose Online Learning Full Time
  • Provide Students the Right to Choose Online Learning Part Time
  • Authorize Statewide Online Charter Schools, Overseen by Statewide Charter Authorizers
  • License Supplementary Online Providers
  • Fund All Learning Opportunities Equally Per Pupil
  • Exempt Online and Blended Teaching from Traditional Teacher Requirements Including Certification and Class Size
  • Establish Student Learning as the Foundation of Accountability for Online Schools and Providers
  • Address Market Imperfections by Providing Abundant Information to Students, Families, Schools, and Districts

Download the paper to learn more, and be sure to...

Lisa Duty

One could argue that 2011 was the
year of “digital learning” in Ohio and across the nation. In September, the
White House announced its “Digital Promise” campaign, while a number of states
have been embracing initiatives and campaigns in this realm, aided and
encouraged by national groups like the Digital Learning Council and the
Foundation for Excellence in Education. Ohio’s biennial budget launched the
Ohio Digital Learning Task Force and charged it with ensuring that the state’s
“legislative environment is conducive to and supportive of the educators and
digital innovators at the heart of this transformation.”

Our two organizations –
KnowledgeWorks and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute – are committed to seeing
Ohio become a leader in the implementation of digital learning opportunities
for the state’s 1.8 million students. Ohio now stands at an important
crossroads and 2012 could be a pivotal year on whether we move forward in the
digital learning environment.

Our state has been a path-breaker
when it comes to availability of full-time e-school options that leverage
technology in learning. In fact, if all 33,000 children currently enrolled in
...

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