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Bob Wise’s Visit to Life Skills of Orange County in Orlando

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June 06, 2011 08:00 pm

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A few months ago, Alliance President Bob Wise blogged about his trip to LifeSkills of Orange County and the school’s success in helping students that had not succeeded in a traditional high school setting. Recently, LifeSkills also blogged about Gov. Wise’s visit and what they had learned about education reform and digital learning. Read the full piece here or see below:

When Bob Wise, the former West Virginia Governor and current co-chair of the Digital Learning Council, toured the Life Skills of Orange County in Orlando, Florida in April, he did so without any preconceived notions of what he would find.

“I don’t know that I had expectations,” Wise said. “It was interesting walking because it was a different setting obviously than a traditional school because it is in a shopping center.

“It wasn’t a traditional school in the sense of seeing students sitting neatly ordered 25 to a classroom. They were much more spread out. The flexibility of the school is important in meeting the students individual time needs with many of the students working.”

Reading a part of the vision statement from the Digital Learning Council on their launch of Digital Learning Now!, one could confuse their statement for one that would describe Life Skills.

“Our vision is an education that maximizes every child’s potential for learning, prepares every child with the knowledge and skills to succeed in college and career, and launches every child into the world with the ability to pursue his or her dreams.

By unleashing the power of digital learning, America has the ability to realize that vision today.

Digital learning can customize and personalize education so all students learn in their own style at their own pace, which maximizes their chances for success in school and beyond.”

Wise and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush co-chair the Digital Learning Council, a project they started because both had already shown a strong understanding of the education system in the country and both saw ways in which it could be fixed.

“I have always had a lot of respect for Governor Bush and much of what he has accomplished whether it is digital learning or adolescent literacy or the use of data in Florida,” Wise said.

While Wise had respect for Bush, it seems that at the same time Bush had respect for Wise as it was the former Governor of Florida who made the call to reach out about joining forces.

“I think what attracted him was that just like he had done a lot of ground breaking work in Florida, I had written a report last year about the online imperative,” Wise said.  “I came to the conclusion that you needed something to greatly change that model and that digital learning was one of those game changers, so he had seen that and I think he thought we were kindred souls, especially in the area of digital learning.”

With as much research as Wise and Bush have done in creating the Digital Learning Council, they knew that research would mean very little, if anything at all, without physical proof that digital learning could actually work in a real life situation such as Life Skills.

“I am a big believer that if I can show a policy maker – whether it is a member of Congress or a Board of Education member – a real life example that if it is working for several hundred students in this one school, then we make it work for the six million kids most at risk of dropping out in secondary schools,” Wise said. “I (toured) schools such as this one to be able to (gain) a personal experience because no matter how much research has been done, it’s always important to be able to put a human face on it. If I have a human face that is backed by research and results, that’s the best combination of all.”

One of the reasons Wise has been relentless in his pursuit is because he sees a trend forming when it comes to students who do not finish high school on time and he wants to raise awareness for those who are not as close to the situation.

“I don’t think many people fully appreciate the dropout crisis. What they also don’t appreciate is that those students who are graduating with a diploma are graduating but are not college or career ready,” Wise said.  “Only about 40% of ninth graders are going to finish high school on time and ready for college or career and so that obviously presents a great challenge to us.

“While we only have 40% that are graduating college or career ready, we have 60% of the jobs in today’s society that require some post-secondary work. What that said to me was that we can’t get there from here.”

With that in mind, Wise and Bush have created The 10 Elements of High Quality Digital Learning. Some of the ideas laid out in this plan are already being used by Life Skills, which Wise saw firsthand during his visit to the Life Skills of Orange County. What he saw was an example of what the Digital Learning Council likes to call ‘blended learning’ – meaning that the students are being taught not only through technology, but also with the help of teachers on site.

“I think what impressed me the most was the combination of teaching and technology that is so critical to this group of students,” Wise said. “I don’t think the technology alone would put them over the top but the (technology) learning platform they are using is critical for the teachers because it is adaptive and the teachers are able to identify each student’s needs and work with the individual student so it’s a good partnership.”

For some, the partnership between Wise (a democrat) and Bush (a republican) may seem a little out of the ordinary but Wise believes quite the opposite, saying there are two reasons that the former governors have worked so well together.

“One, there is a luxury in being a governor because governors actually have to get things done and are held directly responsible. Governors tend to not be as partisan, especially working with one another. And of course governors aren’t competing with each other in their own states,” Wise said. “The second part of it is that education tends to be a nonpartisan issue.”

While The 10 Elements of High Quality Digital Learning were released at the 2010 Excellence in Action National Summit on Education Reform on December 1 in Washington, D.C. and some of the results will be made known at the 2011 Excellence in Action National Summit on Education Reform this October in San Francisco, Wise has been working diligently to get the word out to the decision makers.

“I spend two or three days a week meeting and visiting with state lawmakers and members of Congress,” Wise said. “We just held an event on Capitol Hill profiling four rural high schools and how they use digital learning to greatly increase their student outcomes.

“It is building awareness, it is stressing to policy makers the importance of digital learning and that it is not something that is in the future, that it is here now.”

Digital learning has been used for years at Life Skills, where your future starts now.

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