Digital learning: Quality is critical

Digital Learning Now, led by two former governors, Republican Jeb Bush of Florida and Democrat Bob Wise of West Virginia, has come out with 10 Elements of High Quality Digital Learning (pdf).  Recommendations in the “road map” include “abolishing seat-time requirements, linking teacher pay to student success, and overhauling public school funding models,” reports Education Week.

Last month, the International Society for K-12 Online Learning, or iNACOL, released a paper suggesting a move away from seat-time requirements to competency-based pathways that let students advance at their own pace after mastering concepts. Meanwhile, seizing on the budget challenges facing almost all districts in the current climate, the theme for the Consortium for School Networking’s annual conference this upcoming March is “Mastering the Moment,” referring to the opportunity for technology-driven reform fueled by the need to cut costs.

Will digital learning increase “high-quality education” choices? On The Quick and the Ed,  Bill Tucker warns that innovation can go astray.

They suggest, for example, that states evaluate “the quality of content and courses predominately based on student learning data,” yet provide few details on how to accomplish this difficult task. Likewise, recommendations for “Quality Providers” focus heavily on the removal of barriers to competition, but offer little discussion of how to enact the recommendation for “a strong system of oversight and quality control.” Too often, the recommendations assume that quality will naturally result from regulatory relief.

Virtual education is in a time of rapid growth as school districts, for-profit providers, and nonprofit start-ups all move into the online learning world. But without rigorous oversight, a thousand flowers blooming will also yield a lot of weeds.

The report recommends terminating contracts with providers and programs that don’t perform well. Easier said than done, writes Tucker.

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