Ohio Should Remove Digital Learning Barriers for Innovation

Ohio should remove barriers to digital learning, encourage innovation, promote equity and create accountability for a new era of learning. 
Ohio policymakers took crucial steps to create access to digital learning in Ohio’s biennial budget signed by Governor Kasich last June. House Bill 153 (H.B. 153) expanded digital learning by providing students access to online courses at any point in their educational careers, allowing students to fulfill state curriculum requirements through online learning at any time during the calendar year, and removing a limit on the number of credits received online. Perhaps most important – in theory – H.B. 153 allows students to customize their education by prohibiting districts from refusing to issue credit and grades earned by taking online courses. This is “in theory” because students in Ohio are not provided funding for their choice of online courses.
The same bill established the Ohio Digital Learning Task Force that has the responsibility of developing a strategy for the further expansion of digital learning, and its charges are reflective of Digital Learning Now’s Elements of High Quality Digital Learning. With task force recommendations just a month away, Ohio now stands at an important crossroads and 2012 could be a pivotal year for connecting digital learning to Ohio’s 1.8 million students.
Ohio is already renowned for its availability of full-time e-school options that leverage technology in learning. In fact, if all 33,000 children currently enrolled in Ohio e-schools were in a single school district it would make up the state’s third largest district just after Columbus and Cleveland. Despite such numbers, Ohio has yet to fully harness the potential of digital learning for all students. Digital learning can and should take many different forms—from the full-time online options of e-schools to supplemental coursework to meet individual student needs not met by their brick and mortar schools—and everything in between.
There are districts, schools and educators in Ohio that are paving a path forward. For example, the Dayton Regional STEM school teaches its students Mandarin Chinese through an online course. The Clermont County Educational Service Center and area districts partnered to create a Virtual Talented and Gifted program at a time when such programs are being scaled back or eliminated. Yet, affordance of such learning options for students cannot be left to chance. There is growing evidence that digital learning improves student outcomes by expanding opportunities for personalized learning and support. To maximize digital learning opportunities for all its children Ohio has to develop systems for learning that are radically different from what was crafted long ago for a place-bound, 180-day school year where children engage (or do not engage) in institutional provisions based largely on tradition and the needs of adults.
The following policies are consistent with a view of education that centers on the needs of learners, not those of institutions. As digital learning evolves, teaching and learning can become increasingly tailored to students’ needs and abilities. Ohio should act to remove barriers to digital learning, encourage innovation, promote equity and create accountability for a new era of learning.
Remove barriers to digital learning

  • Remove teacher-student ratios and class size limits created for a traditional classroom.
  • Establish competency-based learning models that allow students to advance upon demonstrating mastery of knowledge or skills, not seat time.
  • Educate students and parents about their right to choose high-quality online courses and make available credible information about which digital courses or programs work best under what conditions as well as the costs of those courses or programs.

Encourage innovation

  • Provide all students in all grades access to a robust offering of high-quality courses from multiple high-quality providers in a competitive, data-driven marketplace.
  • Define in law blended, brick-and-mortar schools so as to encourage new designs, generate pilots, and attract proven models while ensuring their funding.
  • Guarantee that funding follows the child to the individual course provider of their choice, evaluate providers based on student performance, and pay them in installments that incentivize completion and achievement.
  • Unbundle, define and enable new educator roles and challenge universities, the private sector and others to prepare adults to serve in new capacities.

Promote equity

  • Require every student to complete at least one online course to earn a high school diploma.
  • Weight the funds for low-income and/or hard to serve students so as to control for the unintended consequences of digital providers selectively serving only students who are likely to demonstrate competency.
  • Power up all regions of Ohio by aggregating purchase request data and leveraging bulk discount pricing to support connectivity and device acquisition for all.

Create accountability for a new era of learning

  • End the archaic practice of funding seat-time, and fund course providers based on student performance instead of attendance.
  • Require student performance and student and family satisfaction data are published as indicators of quality of course providers.

Digital learning can create unprecedented access to a high-quality education. Yet, Ohio policymakers and educators alike must be willing to take disruptive action, unlearn much of what they know, and expect to make some mistakes along the way. Innovation and radically-improved learning performance, won’t happen any other way.

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