Digital Learning

  • Students in some Ohio districts will not be turning their cell phones on vibrate anymore as schools experiment with new policies that allow the use of technology in “green zones” such as hallways and lunch rooms. Classroom use of electronics is at the teacher’s discretion, with some classes using laptops to take notes and camera phones to photograph science experiments.
  • Good teachers never stop learning. Instructors at New Albany High School are taking graduate courses to develop blended learning curriculum for their students. The course quality will be assessed based on student performance during the second half of the school year.
  • Parents of truant students attended motivational sessions as opposed to paying fines, as part of an effort between the Cleveland Municipal Court and the Juvenile Court. The program, Redirecting Our Curfew Kids (ROCK) was intended to inform parents of the dangers of truancy and missing curfew.
  • Cincinnati Public Schools students have an exciting new after-school option. WordPlay, designed to meet urban community needs, provides an inspirational and fun place for kids to do projects, read, or get homework help.

Many of today’s parents yearn to live in or near the lively, culturally vibrant heart of the city—in diverse, walkable neighborhoods full of music and theater, accessible to museums and stores, awash in ethnic eateries, and radiating a true sense of community. This is a major shift from recent generations that saw middle class families trading urban centers for suburbs with lawns, malls, parks, and good schools.

But good schools still matter. And standing in the way of many parents’ urban aspirations is the question: Will the public schools in the city provide a strong education for my kids?

To be sure, lots of parents favor sending their sons and daughters to diverse schools with children from a variety of racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. But can such schools successfully meet the educational needs of all those different kids? How do middle class children fare in these environments? Is there enough challenge and stimulation in schools that also struggle to help poor and immigrant children reach basic standards? Is there too much focus on test scores? And why is it so hard to find diverse public schools with a progressive, child-centered approach to education?

These quandaries...

Ohio is on the precipice of a new era of learning that is available for its K-12 students. In 2005, the general assembly imposed a moratorium on internet-based community schools, but it will end on January 1, 2013. House Bill 153 permits five new internet-based community schools to open ever year. The moratorium was intended to provide time for Ohio to develop accountability standards in order to evaluate the effectiveness of online community schools.

An article – in the first report released by Education Week in a three part series regarding e-learning – broaches concerns regarding quality standards for virtual education. The author contends that because each state has their own unique e-school policy, there is not a universal set of standards applicable for all states.

Despite these disparate accountability standards, the California Learning Resource Network and the Texas Virtual School Network partnered to write the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) National Standards for Quality Online Courses. The document provides standards for online courses regarding their content, instructional design, student assessment, technology, and course evaluation and support.

The implementation of the Common Core standards may provide more uniformity for academic standards for online community schools,...

Online learning has plenty of boosters, from statehouses to edtech startups, but those advocates may find the public far from enthusiastic about the expansion of virtual education. Fordham’s latest report, How Americans Would Slim Down Public Education, details the findings of a nationally representative survey of the public, including that Americans remain deeply divided on the merits of online learning (something that previous research has also shown).

Blended learning, which combines online instruction with face-to-face instruction, split respondents: Forty-two percent favored the expansion of the model while 46 percent said that schools should stay away from blended classes. The public was also skeptical of virtual schools, where students take some or all of their classes online and have an online teacher. Only 21 percent described such schools as a “good idea,” while 32 percent labeled them a “bad idea.” Forty percent of those surveyed thought virtual schools were a “good option, but only for students who have difficulty in traditional schools.” Perhaps surprisingly, parents who had experience with virtual schools were not more supportive of them than the general public: Only about a fifth of both groups supported the model.


Innovation: It’s an education reform cliché. But what is innovation, really?

Ask most people about innovation and they’ll probably talk about products—airplanes, laptops, smartphones. But innovation also refers to process. That’s what blended learning is for education. It turns the process of teaching upside down.

Today, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, in partnership with Knowledge Works and Reynoldsburg School District, welcomed Anthony Kim, founder and CEO of Education Elements, to Ohio. Founded in 2010, Education Elements is a California-based company that advises schools on how to adopt and implement blended learning models. Education Elements has assisted charters (KIPP Los Angeles), traditional public school districts (Houston Independent School District), and parochial schools (Mission Dolores Academy in San Francisco).

Anthony Kim, founder and CEO of Education Elements

Kim began the conversation with an audience that included superintendents, teachers, lawmakers, and state board members by describing his blended learning model. According to Kim, blended learning has three goals:

  • To differentiate teaching by breaking the classroom into smaller groups
  • To increase the collection and use of student achievement data to improve teaching
  • To create more efficient schools

How does blended learning achieve these goals?

First, blended learning...

The Supreme Court ruling that upheld the Affordable Care Act has many of us talking about checks and balances, so let’s use this teachable moment to examine how separate branches of North Carolina’s government have left its first virtual charter school in limbo.

The North Carolina Board of Education simply ignored a law it didn’t like.

A Wake County Superior Court judge ruled Friday that the North Carolina Virtual Academy can’t open this fall because the state’s Board of Education never said it could. The academy had won preliminary approval from the county school board where it would have been based, but Judge Abraham Penn said that ultimate approval lies with the state board.

The problem—one that even Judge Penn acknowledges—is that the state board refused to even consider the academy’s legitimate application. And this is where governance in the Tar Heel State breaks down.

When North Carolina’s 2011 legislative session ended in the summer of that year, lawmakers lifted the cap on the number of charter schools in the state and allowed for the creation of virtual charters. Months later, in October 2011, state Board of Education Chairman William Harrison told his colleagues, without asking for a vote,...

Famed business-school thinker Clayton Christensen was splendidly profiled in The New Yorker a few weeks back, which set me to reflecting on his influential meditation on K-12 education, Disrupting Class, the 2008 book (co-authored with Michael Horn and Curtis Johnson) that startled the edu-cracy with its bold prediction that half of all high school courses will be delivered online by 2019 and its explanation that technology will produce the “disruptive innovation” in education that previous reform efforts have failed to bring about. As I read the profile, though, I couldn’t help but wonder if the more disruptive force in education is lower-tech and already more widespread than Christensen himself realized.

Old steel mill
Disruptive innovation drove out of business organizations in the steel industry that didn't adapt.
Photo by hanjeanwat.

“Disruptive innovation” is his seminal insight, perhaps better summarized in Larissa MacFarquhar’s profile than in the education book itself. “How was it,” he started wondering, “that big, rich companies, admired and emulated by everyone, could one year be at the...

As Bobby Jindal learned last week, upending teacher tenure and emancipating thousands of students with private school vouchers will get you sued by adult interests hostile to this kind of disruption. But what if you’re a fledgling virtual charter school that plays by the rules established by your legislature? Should you have to turn to the courts to get launched? And should you expect the fury of most of the school districts in your state? How much disruption can one school cause?

This one school has challenged our suppositions of school boundaries and governance.

A lot, according to sixty of North Carolina’s 115 school districts, which have joined a lawsuit that aims to stop the North Carolina Virtual Academy from opening this fall. One school board member in Wake County, which has signed on to the fight, said districts are incensed that the virtual charter could enroll students from any county in the Tar Heel State. What’s worse, say the plaintiffs, the school will be managed by the for-profit K12 Inc.

In other words, this one school, which would be North Carolina’s first online charter academy, has challenged our suppositions of school boundaries and governance. That’s the sort...

Not so long ago, I doubted that computers, cell phones, and the internet would make any more difference in American education than television had. Ringing in my ears was a comment by the late Ralph Tyler that the sole technological advance in a century that had really affected classrooms was the overhead projector because, he wisecracked, it was “the only one that the teacher could use while still keeping an eye on her students.”

Loud Objects at iMAL
Education technology is finally moving past the overhead projector.
Photo by Marc Wathieu.

Computers, I figured, would continue to be useful to scientists and engineers and others with complex calculations to make. Cell phones would function like traditional telephones, only portable. The internet (whether or not Al Gore had anything to do with it) was for emailing and such. And “information technology” was sort of like engineering, a field for wonky college students wanting to write computer code. K-12 education might benefit marginally from bits of all this but mainly would sail on...

I’ve seen the future of blended learning and it is exciting. The Cities for Education Entrepreneurship Trust (CEE-Trust) organized visits to three cutting edge schools and Silicon Valley-based education entrepreneurs Junyo and Education Elements. The CEE-Trust contingent included 17 educators, new school developers and philanthropists from New Orleans, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Denver, Kansas City, Rochester, NY and Nashville.

The group visited the following charter schools:

  • Aspire Eres Academy in Oakland. Eres operator is Aspire Public Schools. Aspire is one of the nation’s top-performing charter school operators and serves about 12,000 K-12 students in 34 schools across California. Aspire Eres is Aspire’s first foray into blended learning. The Eres Academy serves about 220 students in grades K-8. The student population is 98 percent Hispanic, 97 percent free and reduced-price lunch and 60 percent English Language Learners.
  • Downtown College Prep (DCP) in San Jose. DCP opened its first building in 2000 and currently operates a high school and a middle school serving grades 6-7. The flagship high school serves about 400 students, while the DCP Alum Rock middle school is currently serving about 180 students. The middle school will serve grades 6-8 in 2012-13 and expects 300 students at full
  • ...