The main criticisms of the Digital Learning report issues yesterday were from folks nervous about choice–they want good choices and they worry that parents and students won’t make good choices.  The Digital Learning Council held extensive discussions on both topics.

Good choices in digital learning providers (full or part time enrollment) and digital content is obviously in everyones best interest.  However, let’s start be recalling that parents want options because millions of students are trapped in failing schools with terrible teachers given the lack of school accountability and inability to fire very poor teachers.

The report recommended a rigorous review and approval process (i.e., in keeping with NACSA recommendations) for online learning providers.

The report generally favors a shift from inputs to outputs and discourages efforts to block digital content and stifle innovation. Old textbook adoption processes should be scrapped and certainly should not be applied to digital content.  It would, however, be a great time to launch an aggressive research and evaluation program to learn as much as we can about learning online and questions including, what kinds of experiences motivate what kinds of students?  What’s the best way to learn fractions?  How to ensure transferability of skills?  When and where are learning cohorts valuable?

Council members were worried that efforts to make sure parents make good choices will turn into bureaucratic barriers that trap students in traditional schools.  If a local superintendent has to approve any alternative to a local school, you can count on parents being hassled about investigating alternatives.  If an online course requires an approved “individual learning plan” from teachers at a local school, you can count on few online enrollments.  In the end the guidance was to rely on state approved providers with a results focused accountability system.

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Tom Vander Ark is author of Difference Making at the Heart of Learning, The Power of Place, Better Together, Smart Parents, Smart Cities and Getting Smart. He is co-founder of Getting Smart and Learn Capital and serves on the boards of Education Board Partners, 4.0 Schools, Digital Learning Institute, Latinx Education Collaborative, Mastery Transcript Consortium and eduInnovation. Follow Tom on Twitter, @tvanderark.

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