Every State Needs A Leadership & Empowerment Agenda

Susan Patrick (iNACOL), Michael Horn (Innosight) and I spoke with a state education agency (SEA) staff yesterday.  Michael received his new classifications of blended learning. I added 10 Reasons Every District Should Open a Flex School.  Susan talked about the student benefits of multiple full and part time providers as described in the Element 3 of Digital Learning Now!, “All students can use digital learning to customize their education.”
The chief press for details on what they should do right now.  I responded with a four part plan that could be adapted for any state. It’s a combination of top-down and bottom-up change or, more accurately, a leadership agenda and an empowerment agenda.
Leadership Agenda.  The fiscal crisis has crippled state and district capacity but leadership has never been more important. Digital learning offers hope for doing more with less, but the transition over the next few years will be challenging.  It will require some one-time expenditures and a permanent reprioritization of budgets. State projects, coordinated with district leaders, include the shift to digital and support for new school models:
1. Plan for the shift to digital:

  • Support shift to digital instructional materials not later than 2015.  As Element 4 of Digital Learning Now! suggests, “States should abandon the lengthy textbook adoption process and embrace the flexibility offered by digital content.” State and district instructional materials budgets should be used.
  • Support development of high access learning environments using one of three strategies (we’re publishing a white paper on this soon):
  • Support improved broadband access.  SETDA recommends Internet connections of 100 Mbps per 1,000 by 2014-­‐15 and of 1 Gbps per 1,000 by 2017-­‐18. See SETDA Report On K-12 Infrastructure Needs.
  • Support district preparation for online assessment in 2014-15 (just 25 months away!).  Make sure every district has a plan to support your state’s testing program.
  • Support Common Core alignement and formative assessment with free tools from MasteryConnect.
  • Update your teacher evaluation system and provide online professional development from Bloomboard.

2. Support development of blended schools.  Using a framework like the Next Generation Learning Challenges or NYC iZone, states and/or regional foundations can create incentives for development of or conversion to blended learning models.
Authorizing blended charters is another great strategy.  It’s exciting to see leadership on this front in in Indianapolis (Rocketship, Carpe Diem) and Ohio. (Nexus).  Districts can partner with AdvancePath to keep get over-aged, under-credited students back on track (see Hillary’s graduation success story).
Schools don’t need to flip over night, they can start with a simple addition of a proven blended program like ST Math from MIND Research Institute.
Empowerment Agenda.  The shift to personal digital learning is thick and complicated.  It’s not just print to digital, it’s chronology to competency, sequential to adaptive, individual practitioners to teams, and tethered to mobile. The good news is that many teachers and students have made the shift and they’re just waiting for us to catch up.  It’s time to empower teacher leaders and expand student options.
1. Teacher leadership. About 7 million students benefit from engaging assignments on Edmodo, a social learning platform frequently adopted by individual teachers.  Millions of students view Khan Academy videos and thousands of teachers have flipped their classroom with Khan, Edmodo, ShowMe, and Gooru. See Greg Green’s advice on the Flipped High School.
State and district leaders can support teacher leadership by by recognizing innovative teachers and by holding flipped conferences and webinars (contact me if you want a open resources blended learning conference in your community).
2. Student options.  States should support expanded student options including the authorization of multiple statewide online learning providers.  Every student should have access to a well taught college prep courses including AP, foreign language, and higher level STEM courses–and that’s possible and affordable with online learning.
While you’re trying to figure out how to blend schools, let student blend their own learning.  It’s time for every SEA to build a digital learning leadership agenda and an empowerment agenda.
Disclosures: AdvancePath, Bloomboard, Edmodo, ShowMe and MasteryConnect are portfolio companies of LearnCapital where Tom is a partner.  Digital learning Now, MIND Research are Getting Smart advocacy partners. Tom is a director at iNACOL.

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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