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Grades are in: Digital learning gets more state attention

Report card gives some states' education policies failing or near failing grades
States signed 132 digital learning bills into law last year, according to the Digital Learning Report Card 2013. (Click image to enlarge)
States signed 132 digital learning bills into law last year, according to the Digital Learning Report Card 2013. (Click image to enlarge)

States are passing legislation to improve technology use in K12 classrooms, having debated more than 450 digital learning bills and having signed 132 into law last year, according to the Digital Learning Report Card 2013.

Digital Learning Now!, a national initiative of the Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd), which pushes to reform education and to improve technology, recently released the report card that grades K12 education policies in each of the nation’s 50 states.

But the grades for some states are still failing or near failing. Only two states, Utah and Florida, received As for boosting technology in schools. Ten states received B’s—including Texas and Washington, which improved from the C’s they earned on the 2012 report card. Fourteen states, including Montana, California, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, received F’s—an improvement, however, from 20 states that flunked in 2012.

The report card, which was first given a year ago, grades a state based on its progress toward achieving the 10 Elements of High-Quality Digital Learning, which sets technology standards designed to prepare students for college and careers.

The Digital Learning Council—created by former Govs. Jeb Bush and Bob Wise in 2010 and comprising more than 50 leaders from education, government, business and technology—identified what lawmakers and policymakers must do to foster a high-quality, customized education. (See sidebar for the 10 elements.)

“Too often, new education models, including online, blended and competency-based learning, are blocked by outdated regulations and laws,” Digital Learning Now! Executive Director John Bailey said in a release. “The report card provides a comprehensive analysis of state policy climates that create the necessary conditions to support high-quality, next-generation models of learning and the effective use of technology in the classroom.”

10 Elements of High-Quality Digital Learning

  1. Student eligibility: All students are digital learners.
  2. Student access: All students have access to high-quality digital content and online courses.
  3. Personalized learning: All students can customize their education using digital content through an approved provider.
  4. Advancement: Students progress based on demonstrated competency.
  5. Quality content: Digital content, instructional materials, and online and blended learning courses are high quality.
  6. Quality instruction: Digital instruction is high quality.
  7. Quality choices: All students have access to multiple high-quality providers.
  8. Assessment and accountability: Student learning is the metric for evaluating the quality of content and instruction.
  9. Funding: Funding creates incentives for performance, options and innovation.
  10. Delivery: Infrastructure supports digital learning.

U.S. Department of Education Director of Educational Technology Richard Culatta responded to the report by suggesting that districts making the technology transition should ensure they have enough bandwidth and the proper devices. And he stresses the importance of training educators.

“When teachers are empowered to use technology effectively, students and families benefit from access to high-quality learning activities, regardless of the zip code they happen to live in,” Culatta says.

Improvement comes slowly

Florida received an A—up from a B in 2012—in part because it uses student outcome data as a basis for closing underperforming schools. Nevada, which rose from a D to a B, focused on removing access restrictions to distance education.

Arkansas, which moved from an F to a D, still leaving room for improvement, passed a law that ensures every student will be able to take at least one digital course next year. The law also established an approved provider list for digital learning content.

The report card cited other recently passed legislation:

  • A Florida law removes restrictions on which students can register for online classes and expands the variety of online offerings, adding massive open online courses (MOOCs).
  • Texas created an online course choice program, using the state virtual school network as a marketplace for high-quality online courses. Students in grades six through eight can now take the courses that were previously open only to high school students.
  • California, which failed on this report card, did pass a law that was effective just this past January to expand access to digital instruction materials. It allows districts to negotiate prices of materials and forces publishers to allow districts to buy “unbundled content.”