Digital Learning

Blended learning: It’s the talk of the town and perceived favorably, but it hasn’t found widespread use…yet. Fordham’s May 2013 publication Half Empty Half Full: Superintendents’ Views on Ohio’s Education Reform surveyed 344 of Ohio’s 614 district superintendents: 59 percent of superintendents thought that blended learning would lead to “fundamental improvement.” However, despite the vocal support for blended learning, few superintendents (a mere 5 percent) report that it has achieved “widespread” use in their school district. In fact, 31 percent of superintendents reported that blended learning was of “limited or no use” in their district.

(Blended learning refers to an instructional model that mixes virtual education with traditional face-to-face instruction. The model can vary depending on what instructional model the teacher chooses to implement. Heather Staker and Michael B. Horn, Classifying K-12 Blended Learning, identify four blended learning models.)  

Who are the most laggardly of the laggards in terms of using blended learning? It seems, as might be expected, that superintendents of rural districts are the most likely to report little to no use of blended learning. And, importantly, it’s not on account of attitudinal resistance to blended learning from these rural school leaders.

Chart 1 shows that rural superintendents view blended learning favorably—as favorably as their peers in larger, more urban districts. Sixty-one percent of rural superintendents view blended learning favorably, a percentage that mirrors that of urban (61 percent) and suburban superintendents (66 percent), and is considerably higher than small town superintendents (45 percent). 

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How Blended Learning Can Improve the Teaching ProfessionTaking a page from Public Impact’s "Opportunity Culture” playbook, this paper from Digital Learning Now! (the seventh in its “Smart Series”) argues that blended learning will help improve teacher satisfaction and reinvigorate the profession. Both are surely good things when one considers current teacher-satisfaction rates—which have dropped substantially over the past few years. The DLN/Public Impact team argues that blended learning allows for improved working conditions (with more opportunities for collaboration), more tailored professional development, more varied career advancement, and professional flexibility (including the ability to teach remotely). To be sure, the authors do not make a convincing case for heightened teacher satisfaction through all of their suggestions, such as why teachers would intrinsically support increased class sizes (in order to make the technology affordable). However, most recommendations make good educational sense. Profiles of schools (mostly charters) that have utilized blended learning to increase teacher effectiveness and streamline teacher workload speckle the text, reminding us that blended learning is about leveraging technology, not replacing teachers.

SOURCE: John Bailey, Bryan Hassel, Emily Ayscue Hassel, Carri Schneider, and Tom Vander Ark, How Blended Learning Can Improve The Teaching Profession (Tallahassee, FL: Foundation for Excellence in Education, May 2013)....

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GadflyThe D.C. charter board has rejected the application for the proposed One World Public Charter School, whose high-status organizers include a former Sidwell Friends principal—due in part to “multiple grammatical and spelling errors” in the application. The board also rejected six other applications while okaying just two: a Montessori elementary and an adult-education program, both of which had been turned down in previous years and came back with stronger applications. Hat tip to the D.C. charter board for showing us how quality authorizing is done.

The online-education provider Khan Academy—with a little help from a $2.2 million Helmsley grant—has announced a plan to develop online, Common Core–aligned math tools for teachers and students. Hat tip number two!

After a bit of competition from within the ranks, the always-controversial Karen Lewis has been reelected to lead the Chicago Teachers Union. You get the champagne, we’ll get the party hats, and CTU will break out the celebratory lawsuits.

On Monday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced that three more states—Alaska, Hawaii, and West Virginia—will be granted NCLB waivers, bringing the tally to thirty-seven. This is another win for Hawaii, which (finally) eked out a teacher-contract deal just last month—and which just might get to keep its Race to the Top dollars, too. In the meantime, seven states remain in “waiver...

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This sixth paper in the Digital Learning Now! “Smart Series” details how archaic education-financing structures represent a fundamental barrier to innovation (whether that be digital learning or faithful implementation of rigorous standards) in today’s K–12 sector—and sets forth four “design principles” for a modern funding structure. None of these recommendations for restructuring school funding is new (indeed, they’re largely built off work Fordham produced in 2006), but they’re worthy all the same: To allow innovation to take hold, funding must be weighted, flexible, and portable. It also must be based on performance, the authors argue. (A good idea—though one challenging to implement.) This paper provides a solid primer on all four—including tangible examples of states and districts that have made these changes. San Francisco, for example, rolled out a weighted-student funding system in 2002 that provides dollars to schools based on student grade level, socioeconomic status, special needs, and English language proficiency. Each school is then responsible for creating a budget tailored to its specific needs, with the central office in charge of training and monitoring schools. Yet another helpful DLN paper, chockablock with smart, actionable policy recommendations.

SOURCE: John Bailey, Carrie Schneider, and Tom Vander Ark, Funding Students, Options, and Achievement (Tallahassee, FL: Foundation for Excellence in Education, April 2013)....

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Kudos to the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s Digital Learning Now! team: Its new fifty-state analysis of digital-learning policies offers a comprehensive, navigable, and timely look at the state-policy landscape for digital and blended education. The report scores each state’s policies against DLN’s ten “elements of high-quality digital learning” (including student access, funding, and quality choices), measured by the group’s thirty-nine underlying “metrics,” or policy criterion by which states are officially scored. Under “funding,” for example, is the metric “funding is provided on a fractional, per course basis to pay providers for individual online courses.” Overall, Utah comes out on top, garnering the lone A-minus. Another five states—Florida, Minnesota, Georgia, Virginia, and Kansas—earn Bs. Twenty-one states register Fs. The report doesn’t simply shame those with inadequate digital-learning policies, though. It provides numerous best-practice cases of states that passed quality digital-education legislation in 2012, including Georgia, Louisiana, and Rhode Island. And through its interactive web module, the report articulates state-specific recommendations. Most importantly, it stresses the need to ensure the quality of digital instruction through state policy—even though it stumbles a bit over how to define or ensure that quality. (According to the report, forty-four states have “quality content” for digital courses, which they define as content “aligned to state standards or the Common Core.” But it makes no mention of who determines or verifies that alignment—or if it is done at all.) Still and all, there’s much value here for everyone engaged in state-level policy for digital learning.

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GadflyIn the latest dust-up over the Common Core, the inclusion of some (arguably) violent, war-themed picture books in New York City’s third-grade English curriculum has some whining that the recommended texts were not vetted properly—and, predictably, claiming that implementation is moving too fast. For straight talk, check out this week’s Education Gadfly Show podcast.

A national database called inBloom that warehouses millions of students’ personal information for school districts has a slightly unfortunate side business: selling realistic-but-fake student data to application developers. According to inBloom, the two sides of its operation are strictly separate—but that hasn’t stopped parent listservs from exploding with the rage of a thousand mothers.

Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal found that more than 10 percent of New York City’s principals did not issue a single teacher an “unsatisfactory” grade (the city uses a pass/fail system for reviewing job performance). While this may seem like bad news, flip that number around and notice that nearly 90 percent did. For comparison, consider that, according to Education Week, 98 percent of Michigan’s teachers and 97 percent of Florida’s were rated effective or better—and those are states that recently revamped their evaluation systems. New York City is a cage-busting leader in ferreting out bad teachers. Note, too, that if and when personnel decisions are truly devolved to school principals,...

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There is tension inherent in being a conservative education reformer.

On the one hand, I’m a strident advocate for grand change. For example, my book is about ridding ourselves of traditional urban school districts. I strongly support charters and vouchers. I believe in overhauling teacher evaluation systems and much of the policy architecture they undergird (preparation, credentialing, compensation, tenure, etc.). I’ve written recently about my growing belief that SEAs are outdated.

There is often invisible but incalculable value in institutions and practices that have survived the test of time.

I firmly believe that these reforms are in the best interest of kids, especially disadvantaged boys and girls.  But I suspect these views get encouragement from my right-of-center worldview: that government programs are generally clumsy and expensive and often have regrettable and far-reaching unintended consequences; that it’s wise to hold entities accountable for achieving results by using measurable performance indicators that inform consequences; and that markets are generally efficient, nimble, and responsive to consumer needs and create space for the kinds of entrepreneurial activity that generate continuous improvement.

But the other half of my conservatism means I generally believe in preserving things that have been around for a while. As I wrote in this piece about prudent school-closure policies, there is often invisible but incalculable value in institutions and practices that have survived the test of time.

Even if they seem weathered on the outside, below their surfaces can dwell vast, unseen virtues. And like the roots...

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Yesterday was the first day of public testimony on Governor Kasich’s budget proposal before the Ohio House Finance Primary and Secondary Education Committee. Terry submitted testimony on behalf of the Fordham Institute, as did Students First and others.  Following is a good recap from Gongwer News Service:

Terry Ryan, vice-president for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, offered support for the budget, saying the funding offered through the formula would outpace that of almost every other comparable state in FY 14. He also offered suggestions for use in the budget or as the subjects of future legislation.

Firstly, he said all dollars should follow students to the schools they actually attend, but funding is still stuck in categorical programs and flows to the district but not necessarily the building attended.

Mr. Ryan also called for annual academic return on investment reporting for all public schools, both districts and charters. "Just as some districts are more productive than others so are some schools and these should be acknowledged and better understood," he said.

More mandates related to regulations, laws and contract should be eliminated if they force funds to be spent in certain ways in all schools regardless of student characteristics. He said the flexibilities of the Cleveland Plan should be expanded to all districts.

Like the administration, Mr. Ryan said the state should move away from hold harmless provisions and guarantees "that provide funding to districts for phantom students."...

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When then-Governor Ted Strickland issued his Evidence-Based Model (EBM) of school funding reform in 2009 we engaged Professor Paul Hill to provide an analysis of the proposals. We couldn’t think of anyone better to do the work than Professor Hill. His credentials are impeccable. He is founder and recently retired director of the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education, and a former Senior Fellow at Brookings and RAND. Further, Professor Hill has roots in Ohio as a graduate of Ohio State University. He also has family in Dayton.
 
Professor Hill’s analysis of Strickland’s plan was largely informed by the research project he led, Facing the Future: Financing Productive Schools. That six-year effort, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, was the most comprehensive study of its kind ever conducted. It concluded that America’s public-school finance systems are burdened by rules and narrow policies that hold local officials accountable for compliance but not for results. Facing the Future was the work of more than 40 economists, lawyers, financial specialists, and education policy makers. It included more than 30 separate studies, including in-depth looks at Ohio, North Carolina, Texas, and Washington.
 
Based on findings and recommendations from Facing the Future we asked Professor Hill to develop a “crosswalk” between the key findings of that seminal report and the policy recommendations in the Strickland’s Plan. Professor Hill’s analysis of Governor Strickland’s EBM was not kind. It stated bluntly, “Though Governor Ted...

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