CSG Director of Education Policy Pam Goins outlines the top five issues in education policy for 2014, including high quality early childhood education and funding, college- and career-readiness, K-12 assessment and accountability systems, the growing use of technology and digital learning, and degree attainment and college completion. 

According to Cameron Evans, Microsoft’s U.S. Education Chief Technology Offer, on any given day the corporation has 8,000 vacant jobs due to the lack of a skilled workforce.  These are not highly technical jobs but those that can’t be filled by recent graduates due to the skills gap especially in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. 

President Obama today called on the Federal Communications Commission to take steps  to build high-speed digital connections to America’s schools and libraries. Under the President’s proposal, 99 percent of American students would have access to these advances in teaching and learning.  Obama further directed the federal government to make better use of existing funds to get this technology into classrooms.

The 21st century classroom bears little resemblance to those that centered on a chalkboard and a teacher standing at the front of the room. The world of work has also changed. “It’s difficult to find a workplace above the minimum wage where people aren’t using some form of digital technology to do their work,” said Chris Dede, Wirth Professor in Learning Technologies at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. “If students have no exposure in school to digital technology when they graduate, they are ill prepared for the workplace and citizenship in the 21st century.”

CSG is hosting the Digital Learning Policy Academy this weekend in Washington, D.C. to focus on personalized education for all students.  State legislators from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina are engaging in discussions on policy levers to allow for learning anywhere and anytime.

Virtual Learning/Online Education

The Idaho State Journal reported on November 4, 2011:

  • “Education officials on Thursday gave final approval to a plan that makes Idaho the first state in the nation to require high school students to take at least two credits online to graduate, despite criticism of the plan at public hearings this summer.”
  • "Schools nationwide offer virtual classes, but just three states -- Alabama, Florida, and Michigan have adopted rules since 2006 to require online learning, according to the International Association of K-12 Online Learning."
  • "The rule will apply to students entering the 9th grade in fall 2012."
  • "It goes before Idaho lawmakers the 2012 session, which starts in January.”  

Online learning is growing in high schools at nearly breakneck speed. In “The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning: Profiles of Emerging Models,” Heather Staker of the Innosight Institute observes from 2000 to 2010 online learning grew from approximately 45,000 students taking at least one online course to more than 4 million.

These computerized courses give students opportunities to make up for classes they’ve failed or take courses, such as Advanced Placement classes, schools may not be able to offer. However, it is evident that online learning works best when a teacher is available in a classroom or computer lab to assist students with their work.

This Act requires the commissioner of education to adopt a list of electronic textbooks and instructional material, including tools, models, and investigative materials designed for use in the foundation curriculum for science in kindergarten through grade five, and it authorizes a school district to select a textbook or material on that list to be funded by the state textbook fund.

Textbooks may soon follow 8-track tapes, film cameras and instant coffee into oblivion – although I’m admittedly not sure about the latter. What I can report is that beginning November 1, students in four school divisions in Virginia discarded their heavy, thick social studies textbooks and replaced them with Apple iPads loaded with interactive content, media and Apps aligned to state history and social studies standards.

Virtual schools offer the promise of equalizing access to quality curriculum and  improving student oucomes.

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