Governors Will Guide the Shift to Digital Learning

State leadership matters in education (as mentioned in National Journal), now more than ever.
States are broke. While revenues lag, costs continue to escalate (as a result of automatic pay increases, cost of living adjustments, and public pension payments) requiring several more years of painful cutbacks.  Without strong state leadership, these cuts will have a disproportionate impact on low-income students.
It’s clear that a decade of standards-based reform has fallen short of expectations.  Implementing real college and career ready standards that provide smooth transition to earning college credits will be a central challenge of this decade.
The pivot to personal digital learning holds the promise of customizing and extending learning, ensuring that every student receives quality instruction, and making schools more efficient.  However, the shift requires state and local leadership.
About half of the states elect a state superintendent, the other half appoint them.  It’s interesting to note that in the chiefs to watch—the hard charging reformers—are all appointed.
Washington has an elected chief.  This week, Gov Gregoire proposed a streamlined approach to state education administration, one that reported to her rather than the elected state superintendent.
The Seattle Times criticized it as a power grab and faulted her for not trying to incorporate ways to save some money.  The Tacoma News Tribune was sympathetic to the plan

If redrawing the organizational chart promises better results, the Legislature ought to follow the results, not the entrenched interests bent on clinging to control and funding. It would arguably be better to centralize accountability in one elected official, the governor, rather spread it among six different entities, some of which answer to no one obvious.

But the Trib suggested the plan should include more aggressive reform:

We should acknowledge, for example that the trade-union model of teaching is broken and must be replaced with a professional model that links high pay to high performance.  As things stand, compensation is far too often linked to factors – such as longevity, graduation from (often mediocre) education schools and the accumulation of graduate credits – that can have precious little connection to success in the classroom. Seniority, not effectiveness, typically dictates job security and pay.

Efforts to construct a new employment bargain cost political capital and sometimes fail to win expected benefits (like Colorado and Louisiana’s thoughtful reforms that failed to win them a big RttT grant).  Illinois is the latest state attempting to link teacher tenure to results.
Washington State will never lead on education employment reform, but we should be a leader in education technology.  The state was an early pioneer in online learning and is well positioned to be a leader in blended learning—school models that incorporate online learning in order to improve learning and operating productivity.
Gov. Gregoire may not win the right to impose and educzar, but she could host a one day working session with key stakeholders and policy makers that could result in a blended learning framework that could save the state hundreds of millions.
State leadership matters.  Governors will play a critical role in orchestrating economic recovery and education reform by advancing idea economy and personal digital learning.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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