Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Creating Sound Policy for Digital Learning

The latest installments of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s Creating Sound Policy for Digital Learning series address the implications of this education revolution for teachers and school finance.

The first paper in the series, “Quality Control in K-12 Digital Learning: Three (Imperfect) Approaches” by Frederick M. Hess of the American Enterprise Institute, tackled accountability for digital schools.

In a new paper, “Teachers in the Age of Digital Instruction,” Public Impact’s Bryan and Emily Hassel “propose that digital education needs excellent teachers and that the teaching profession needs digital education.”

They propose a smaller—but more talented and better paid—teaching force with its impact magnified through the expanded reach and efficiency allowed by digital technology. “Time-technology swaps” allow the unbundling of teacher roles and the more efficient use of their time, supported by new, lower-paid positions with appealing, shorter hours. Realizing the potential of this new system requires, however, that policymakers revamp everything from certification to teacher preparation, from compensation to class size.

In the second new paper, Paul T. Hill zeroes in on the policy area most in need of reform if digital learning is to succeed: funding. “Our system doesn’t fund schools, and certainly doesn’t fund students,” he writes in “School Finance in the Digital-Learning Era.” “Yet to encourage development and improvement of technology-based methods, we must find ways for public dollars to do just that—and to follow kids to online providers chosen by their parents, teachers, or themselves.”

Hill explains why our current school funding system could cripple the promise of digital learning—and then proposes innovative solutions. By consolidating education funding from different sources into a “backpack” model that follows students and creating debit cards that parents can use for online enrichment courses, the system Hill outlines would ensure that families can choose from a diverse range of robust schooling options.

Upcoming papers in the series will examine local control in the digital era and the costs of online learning. These next installments are scheduled for release in January 2012.

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