By Mike Klein
When President John F. Kennedy said, “We choose to go to the moon” in 1961, he meant quickly, before the end of the decade. Eight years later an American flag was planted on the moon, the result of a clear vision and a clear goal. Regrettably, no similar clear vision or goal can be found in Georgia’s new digital learning task force report. Transition won out over transformation when something clear and bold is what was really needed.
The Digital Learning Task Force report released Wednesday is the result of more than one year’s work requested by Governor Nathan Deal. Divided into sections on infrastructure, digital content and courses, and, blended and competency-based learning, the report touches all the right bases but at no point does the document compel absolute and exciting change anywhere in Georgia’s K-12 landscape. Nothing is specifically required of anyone and there is no single goal that is identifiable to everyone.
The next four paragraphs are a summary of recommendations; click here to read the report:
Infrastructure: Increase statewide broadband capacity to schools, increase the broadband capability of school districts to deliver content within schools; and, increase wireless connectivity in communities.
Digital Content and Courses: Support the transition to and acquisition of digital resources at state, system, school and classroom levels; remove barriers to online learning; and, develop a broad-based communication strategy to support the importance and effective use of digital learning.
Blended and Competency-Based Learning: Provide opportunities so that students can pace learning and ensure mastery before progressing; invest in assessments that drive higher expectations and provide adequate funding to support administration of assessments; align all dual enrollment and competency – based options into a single document that can be easily understood; and,
More Learning Recommendations: Design a funding mechanism that provides flexibility to foster blended and competency-based learning while balancing the operational needs of school districts; find ways to incentivize blended and competency-based learning to include funding for pilot projects and scalable models; and, consider how traditional classroom structures and furniture inhibit teachers from the differentiation needed for blended learning.
Every idea is legitimate and essential to help Georgia transition from its 100-years-old-and-older model of kids stuck in desks staring at one teacher, one wall and one blackboard to the next 100 years that will witness more learning available to more people here and globally than at any point in world history. Nothing we are doing today will likely survive the avalanche of new learning.
That is where the Digital Learning Task Force report had such a terrific opportunity, but came up short. “Outside of proposing an Innovation Fund, the report seems to be missing a real call to action that could galvanize the actual creation of robust student-centered models of learning across the state,” said Michael Horn, co-founder and education editor at the Clayton Christensen Institute in California. Horn spoke to the Digital Learning Task Force in June; here is a YouTube excerpt from his presentation.
“Although the report has a number of positives — its framing of the potential for technology to advance learning, not be an end in and of itself; its creativity around the future of learning environments; and its emphasis on competency-based learning — it falls short as well,” Horn said. “The definition of blended learning is a bit too limited, and more importantly it stops short of recommending a funding mechanism to extend high-quality course choice to all students in the state.”
John Bailey, Executive Director at Digital Learning Now!, said, “The Task Force challenges the state to fully embrace competency-based education and blended learning models … (and it) … provides a foundation for the state to launch a bold agenda toward a student-centric approach to learning that prepares each student for college and career.” Bailey, like Horn, spoke to the Task Force.
The Governor’s office said the recommendations “provide a strong framework for digital learning” and the next step will be discussion with stakeholders. Whether the framework is strong enough will not become clear until some entity manages 12 major and 38 secondary recommendations.
Many determined and committed people worked hard on the Digital Learning Task Force report but as constructed, there is no clear view about how Georgia students and learning should be transformed by the integration of more digital resources on any timetable whatsoever. That is a shame because the state’s overall K-12 experience is crying out for something big and bold.
The Georgia Public Policy Foundation is something that I am proud to be a part of today. The research conducted by education groups like yours is invaluable in helping form opinions and allowing people to reach conclusions that ultimately help them make the right decisions.