How EdTech Will Benefit Low Income Students

Digital learning will benefit all students—particularly students from low income families where education leaders are proactive.  In light of the ‘OER exacerbates the gap’ flap this week launched by Justin Reich’s blog and Audrey Watter’s response, I thought it would be worth expanding on the ways in which EdTech, blended learning, and open education resources (OER) will benefit low income kids.  Following is a list of 10 ways that digital learning will benefit low income students:
1. Good teachers. States that authorize multiple providers and allow part time enrollment (like Florida, Idaho, and Utah) give every student access to great teachers in every subject.
Public Impact is building on the Innosight Institute report, The Rise of Blended Learning, and identifying strategies—most using technology—that extend the reach of great teachers.  The net benefit is that five years from now more students will benefit from great teachers.
2. Good content.  During the next five years most states and districts will shift to predominantly digital content—it will be more to date, more engaging, and provide more expansive learning resources than print.  The shift will disproportionately benefit low income students that have had less access to quality content.
3. Diagnostics.  Adaptive assessments and improved diagnostics are beginning to pinpoint learning levels and gaps that must be addressed.  These tools—like NWEA MAP, Wireless MClass—are of particular benefit to students whose learning has not be well supported.
4. Special services.  We’re beginning to see the deployment of online services for students with language and learning difficulties.  Available on demand, they often work better and are less expensive than traditional approaches.
5. More options.  Personal digital learning is enabling a wide variety of school options—some that blend online and onsite, and some that are purely virtual.  Where states allow it, families have a wider variety of options to meet specific needs.
6. Advanced courses.  Soon, most states will give every student access to every advanced math, science, course as well as Advanced Placement and college credit courses.  With scaled providers it is logistically simple and very affordable to provide cost effective access to consistent quality.  This relatively new capability unquestionable benefits low income students.
7. Time. As the high performing elementary Rocketship network is demonstrating, school models that blend digital learning with classroom instruction can extend the learning day for students that need an 8 hour school day to overcome an early childhood vocabulary deficit.
8. 24/7 access. Over the next five years, most schools will provide take home technology (at least for secondary students) that will extend access to learning resources around the clock.  States, cities, and school districts will continue to make progress on extending access to broadband.  The combination of devices and broadband will narrow the digital divide.
9. Free.  There has been an explosion of free and open educational resources.  With Khan Academy, every family has access to at least one great math teacher.  Teachers can use social learning platform Edmodo, video sharing service SchoolTube, and math games from MangaHigh all for free (Learn Capital portfolio companies).  Free content is helping schools make the shift to personal digital learning—that’s good for all kids but particularly for low income students.
10. Culture.  Good schools have a powerful culture of high expectations and strong support.  As education shifts from a place to a service, social learning groups will extend a culture of learning beyond traditional classrooms.  Teacher social networks are connecting subject area teachers across the country.  Reducing the isolation of teachers and students and promoting a college/career ready culture will disproportionately benefit low income students.
Digital learning won’t necessarily close the achievement gap between income groups, but it will lift the floor.  More students will be more academically successful.  Five years from now, a higher percentage of students will soon graduate from high school ready for college and careers.  Most will have benefited from Common Core expectations.  Some will have benefited from Race to the Top funded programs.  Many will have benefited from these 10 reasons that digital learning will benefit low income students.
This blog first appeared on Huffington Post

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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Paul Hoss

Your optimism on this medium is to be commended. On virtual learning, I'm more from the guarded optimist camp.
For low income students I'm even more guarded. Will these youngsters have access to a computer and the internet at home ($$$)? Beyond that, after six plus hours in a brick and mortar environment, will they be willing/motivated enough to pursue "more" school at home in their leisure time? Who at home will be monitoring their online learning to ensure it gets done?
Realistically, it will all come down to culture. Wish I could believe the low income cohort would be willing to go the extra mile but history hasn't supported that outcome.
One more qualifier for distance learning to succeed: it must be taught by an instructor who knows how to employ software capable of individualizing the pace of instruction. If this variable cannot be satisfied, virtual/distance learning loses perhaps its primary advantage over the traditional school model.

Susan Lee Schwartz

I taught for over 40 years first in primary grades and later in middle school, in NYC, and in 1998, I was the choice for the Educator of Excellence by NYSEC. My middle school practice was a cohort for the New Standards, because of the success of my students.
I know something about how learning takes place, and the Habits of Mind, that enable it. Remember that phrase HABITS OF MIND, whenever anyone suggests that e-learning will accelerate learning in DISADVANTAGED CHILDREN.
Their 'disadvantage' is not that these kids lack a computer. It is that they lack an environment that develops the HABITS OF MIND that leads to learning and literacy, and this is crucial to the acquisition of ALL skills are pwoers and MUST be acquired through PRACTICE.
I can see the value of digital courses in some contexts. For example, when I was young, I would have loved to study at my pace, and use the kind of tutorials in art that I access for my new hobby of photography, today. That said, I am highly motivated and organized, including making time for study and practice, and I spend many hours using on-line tutorials, sacrificing other activities.
It is obvious to me, however, that Tom has never taught low income or disadvantaged children, and I doubt he has ever had to find ways to get a roomful of today's children to develop the HABITS OF MIND, that promote learning...over ten months. Does he expect the parents of these low income children to build these habits and skills? My, my, how Tom undervalues the actual work a teacher does, reducing it to presenting information.
It is all about GENUINE LEARNING , you see, and there is research that outlines the NECESSITIES for the brain to acquire both SKILLS and INFORMATION (2 different things, as any teacher knows, but poor Tom does not). The most recent was the REAL standards research done by Harvard on the EIGHT PRINCIPLES OF LEARNING, WHICH TAKES the entire conversation out of the realm of OPINION, by validating the things that must be in place to develop the crucial HABITS OF MIND that result in that acquisition, AND the ability to APPLY SKILLS AND KNOWLEDGE.
Even supposing access to the machines, children who lack organizational skills cannot profit much. Those who lack motivation will never spend the ime that genuine learning requires (you know, the kind of learning that allows the person to apply what has been learned. rather than to regurgitate information
Sitting at a computer playing games is not the same as putting in time learning skills, let alone memorizing information (TWO different tasks by the way.) Most kids I have met, need real encouragement and motivation to sit at the computer even to learn how to TYPE, a skill, by the way, that like all skills (including critical thinking can only be acquired by PRACTICE.
Motivating students, helping them to organize time to learn and to practice, and to Apply what they learn IS WHAT TEACHERS DO.
Mr. Van Der Ark is under the impression, like so many readers who might believe his OPINION, that anyone can teach, and ergo sum , a machine can replace a teacher. Luckily doctors are expected to actually learn medical skills, and no one would suggest that professional education could be accessed by a computer, although information and research can certainly use the tool.
Yet, the profession of pedagogy is so poorly understood, that the media and the business dollars that support e-education is sending such opinions out as if it were rational information. The human brain and how ti learns, and the psychology of learning, not merely the methods of teaching math or science or art, or anything, is what teachers MASTER IN COLLEGE. Well, the best colleges make this their aim, and then, like doctors, these PROFESSIONALS, train and learn. I became a master teacher over many years. To this day, students who are adults write to tell me what I did for them.
I do not think that the computer will extend the reach of great teachers. At best, it will allow highly motivated, literate and organized youth to follow on-line, some of the lessons, and to gather information, or see the need for development of skills, and their mastery (two different things.
Come on Tom. Low income students like the ones that I faced over decades??? Gimme a break.

Melissa Westbrook

Good teachers? Really and how do you know that all virtual teaching will come from good teachers? You don't.
It's a long line of things that Mr. Vander Ark and his ed reformer pals don't know. Ms. Schwartz, he's not an educator. He's a businessman looking to make a buck under the guise of "I care about kids."
You can look at his record in education and have to wonder. What did he get accomplished at the Gates Foundation? Not much. Just this year, he walked away from a charter group in NYC and left others holding the bag.
Not someone to listen to OR to trust.

Sean Selinger

The biggest beneficiaries from a shift to online learning will likely be autodidacts at poor schools. Lower-income gifted students will have unfettered learning opportunities and won't be held back by their classmates or poor schools. For example, by 4th grade Steve Jobs was at 10th grade level by teaching himself through workbooks. Expect more Abraham Lincolns in their log cabins teaching themselves on Ipads.

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