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Report: Policy Reform Needed for Digital Learning

Digital Learning Now! has released a new Digital Learning Report that measures the progress made by individual states toward digital learning and makes recommendations for future reforms.

Coming on the heels of the organization's 2012 Digital Learning Report Card, the report measures states using the 10 Elements of High Quality Digital Learning, which include:

  • Student eligibility;
  • Student access;
  • Personalized learning;
  • Advancement;
  • Quality content;
  • Quality instruction;
  • Quality choices;
  • Assessment and accountability;
  • Funding; and
  • Delivery.

Each state was evaluated on each metric, then given an overall grade with each area given equal weight. Only Utah received an A, with Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Minnesota, and Virginia earning Bs. Twenty-one states received Fs, 16 earned Ds, and seven were given C grades.

Focusing on the policy climate around digital learning rather than the evaluating school models, learning systems, or the quality of instruction, the report says that nearly 700 bills related to digital learning were proposed in 2012, with 152 passing.

During a year in which "nearly every state enacted a bill that involved digital learning," according to the report, policies were adopted covering a range of e-learning topics, such as:

  • "New options for students at the individual course level" in Georgia, Louisiana, and Utah;
  • A multi-state consortium, launched by Maine and designed to negotiate better prices for Internet-accessible devices for member schools;
  • New rules designed to deemphasize seat time and class size and make room for competency-based or blended learning models; and
  • Commissions designed "to study online learning or chart their own state's unique roadmap to reform."

Other key findings of the report include:

  • Only Alabama, Florida, and Michigan require students to take at least one course online, though Virginia and North Carolina will add the requirement for students in the graduating classes of 2017 and 2020, respectively;
  • Twenty-two states allow students to enroll in online courses without caps on class size or geographic boundaries;
  • While the "vast majority" of states allow for more flexibility in the size of blended  classes, half of those have student-teacher ratio requirements;
  • More than half of all states allow students to enroll in distance courses on a rolling basis;
  • Eighteen states allow students to take end-of-course assessments more than just once per semester, and the same number restrict end-of-course exams to once per year;
  • Thirteen states allow school districts to reject credits earned through other districts or online providers;
  • "Nearly every state" allows schools or districts to use textbook funds for digital resources, but nine states "place additional burdens on the approval process for digital content beyond those on print content";
  • Only two states do not have plans to require online assessments for core subjects and only eight states require online assessments be provided;
  • Twelve states require funds be available for all students seeking online learning opportunities and seven states only provide funding upon successful completion of online courses;
  • Only 20 states have high-speed Internet access in all schools; and
  • No state requires students to have a device for accessing the Internet.

Moving forward, the report recommends policymakers focus on several different issues, including accelerating education reform through digital learning, committing to quality, expanding course choice and student eligibility, reforming funding models and funding students instead of systems, embracing competency-based models, accelerating "the shift to digital content," and strengthening data collection.

An initiative of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, Digital Learning Now! seeks to advance "state policies that will create a high-quality digital learning environment to better equip all students with the knowledge and skills to succeed in this 21st-century economy," according to information released by the organization.

To see the full report, visit digitallearningnow.com. To view an interactive map of the 2012 Digital Learning Report Card, go to digitallearningnow.com/reportcard.

About the Author

Joshua Bolkan is the multimedia editor for Campus Technology and THE Journal. He can be reached at jbolkan@1105media.com.

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