Chairman Gerald Stebelton

Wednesday, I joined colleagues from KnowledgeWorks and testified before the Ohio House Education Committee, which is chaired by Gerald Stebelton.  They already passed H.B. 153, expanding online options for students in Ohio. Yet, they still have work to do as I outlined in my recent testimony. I followed four, very articulate students well served by online and blended schools.  The committee asked great questions and below is a summary of our discussion:

“What kind of kids succeed online?” asked Rep. Huffman.

A really smart junior from ECOT outlined many of the benefits of learning online, but did say that it required a level of motivation and discipline.

I told the committee that students with a lot of risk factors need a lot of support and are usually better off in a blended setting with a strong culture and motivating teachers like AdvancePath (where I serve on the Board of Directors).

“Life is full of unpleasant things, shouldn’t students be forced to deal with a routine and unpleasant people in high school?” asked Rep. Ramos.

This question got the most laughs, but I don’t buy the “life sucks, so I shouldn’t high school” argument.  However, students (in all settings) do need to learn to persistance through difficulty, manage time, and deal with conflicts.

“Should we legislate hours online?” asked Rep. Derickson.

No, as outlined by Digital Learning Now! and in the 10 Elements of High Quality Digital Learning, hold schools and service providers accountable for outcomes. There is a growing number of blended models, some that rotate on and off online courseware and some that rely more heavily on a digital backbone.

“How will teaching be different and what kind of training will teachers need?” asked Rep. Newbold.

In many blended schools teaching will be done in differentiated teams with different levels and roles. That will help leverage our best teachers Public Impact. In hard to staff categories, like physics or speech therapy, remote teachers will supplement local staff.

Teachers will need ongoing professional development (PD) closely coupled to their school model and curriculum.  An online PD resource like BloomBoard (where I serve on the Board of Directors) can make learning available on demand and linked to state evaluation system.

“How are districts supposed to make smart choices about school models and technology?” Rep. Henne.

They should start by studying Innosight Institute’s report on “The Rise of Blended Learning,” which is the best summary of emerging school models that leverage technology.

(See “How will personalized learning work?” For more help, OpenEd Solutions builds blended learning plans for states, districts, and schools.)

“Technology is changing daily.  How should schools choose hardware and software and what about lack of access?” Rep. Baker.

Ohio will be implementing online assessments in 2014.  It’s time for the state to begin a dialog with the districts about improving student access over the next three years. That presents a useful timeline for the shift to digital instructional materials.  Over three years, state and district budgets for technology, curriculum, assessment, and professional development should be adjusted to support blended learning.

Schools should make sure that every student has an access device. Districts should enact acceptable use policies that allow students to bring their own device (See “6 reasons EdLeaders should allow BYOD.”) to school.

States, cities, counties, and broadband providers should work together to expand access to low income families and rural areas.

Last week, we were impressed by the reasons three districts chose Chromebooks.

There will soon be vetting and rating services and trials, like the assessment prize like the one we’re running for the Hewlett Foundation.  (At the reception, I was able to introduce Dr. Mark Shermis, Dean of the School of Education, University of Akron, and leading authority on automated scoring.)

“Khan Academy seems to be a great resource. What’s the best way to learn?” asked Rep. Butler.

I don’t think there is a best way to learn math. For some kids, the visual approach of ST Math will be best. For others the games of Mangahigh will be what makes the most sense.  The auditory explanations of Sal Khan’s videos will work for some. Combinations will work for many so you’ll soon see platforms with smart recommendations (like the one piloted at School of One) and a variety of ways to learn.

“Is there a future for textbooks?” asked Rep. Brenner.

The days of textbooks (including the electronic variety) as a flat and sequential path through content are numbered. Like digital courseware, second generation eTexts provide much more depth and engagement.  Both will be replaced by big libraries of tagged units, sequences of adaptive content, and smart search.

The committee stayed and grilled witnesses with great question until 8 p.m. I found it interesting that the cost of online learning didn’t come up.

One last note on Ohio, Bob Sommers wrapped up his work as Gov. Kasich’s education advisor this week. Bob provided Ohio a great service.  See Rick Hess’ great Q&A with Bob. Good luck with your blended charter network Bob!

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