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Reflect and Renew: Retooling for the New Education Marketplace

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September 28, 2010 02:56 pm

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This week, hundreds of education technology entrepreneurs are gathering in Boston, to “Reflect and Renew” on the “Retooling of the New Education Marketplace”– the theme for this year’s EdNET Conference. This theme is quite fitting, given the current economic situation we are facing as a nation, as an industry, and as individuals.

EdNetLogoWhat will define this country in the years to come is how we choose to “Retool,” the way we have operated in the past; and “Re-Prioritize” our goals moving forward.

Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia, calls this the “GM Moment.” When the executives at GM found themselves in economic peril and asking for a government bailout, they realized that “business as usual” was no longer an option. The choice was either to “retool” and streamline the business model with 21st Century practices, or close shop.

We are being faced with these same challenges across the country– in every sector– including education. And the stakes are high.

K-12 education in the U.S. is dealing with three major challenges, which taken together, create the “perfect storm.”

First, U.S. college graduation rates are not meeting increasing global skill demands. With three out of ten students not graduating from high school and another one third graduating unprepared for college and/or a career– the nation’s future workforce is in jeopardy.

According to research conducted by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, in 1973, the percentage of the workforce requiring some college or above was 28 percent. In 2007, that number grew to 59 percent, and is expected to increase to 62 percent by 2018.  Moreover, in 1970, high school dropouts were three times as likely to be unemployed as those with degrees. Today, high school dropouts are three times as likely to be unemployed as those with degrees.

The second challenge is the funding cliff. The recession has hit education particularly hard and declining local, state, and federal revenues mean changing the education content-delivery model. State policymakers and education leaders will be challenged with raising student performance while facing frozen or decreasing budgets.

The final challenge is the looming teacher shortage. Nationally, nearly 1.3 million teachers in School Year (SY) 2007–08 were aged fifty and up—an increase of 141 percent since SY 1987–88. A recent analysis conducted by University of Pennsylvania’s Richard Ingersoll and David Perda indicates that the number of teachers retiring will likely reach an all-time high in SY 2011–12. And the National Center for Education Statistics projects that public schools will need to hire about 330,000 to 364,000 teachers a year between 2011 and 2017, compared with 316,000 this year. To read more about these challenges, check out a brief that the Alliance released in early 2010 entitled The Online Learning Imperative: A Solution to Three Looming Crises in Education.

So how do we address these challenges and “retool” for the 21st Century? In almost all aspects of American life, technology has been a catalyst in transforming the way Americans live and work. And it can provide one of the greatest returns on taxpayers’ investments.

Technology alone is not the answer, but it certainly can be a very large piece of the puzzle. We also need to enact sound policies to support the development, implementation, and accessibility of technology as well as the professional development necessary to utilize it.

What is needed to implement technology-based learning?

  1. Accessibility: ensuring that students have access–both in and outside of school–to computers, software technology, the internet, and instruction on how to use these resources;
  2. High-quality data systems: a data-rich environment and effective online instruction to ensure student accountability and outcomes;
  3. Common Standards: fewer, clearer, and higher common state standards that are internationally benchmarked, and can facilitate high-quality learning regardless of the medium (brick-and-mortar, blended learning, virtual, etc.) or geography;
  4. Assessments: utilizing the data systems and common standards to accurately measure student results and mastery–regardless of seat of time; and
  5. Professional Development: technology has the potential to transform the role of the teacher into an art form. While we in the education field may truly value teachers, in many regards, they don’t get the credit they deserve. In this scenario, whether they become an online content expert– teaching students all over the country– or a classroom teacher in a virtual classroom, their pedagogy is enhanced by now tailoring instruction to each individual student in the classroom.

These elements are cost-effective to districts and states because they can be used to educate students in a brick-and-mortar school or a virtual setting. Moreover, once the curriculum and course content has been developed, it can easily be replicated and reused. It also makes quality control much easier.

There are a number of state and federal legislative vehicles available for achieving technology-based education.

At the state level:

  • Broadband/Internet: Again, ensuring that students and teachers have access to computers and the internet. According to an article in this year’s edition of Technology Counts, nationally, only 50 percent of students have access to computers in their classrooms. This is particularly important in rural areas
  • Access to Online/Digital Opportunities: Keeping the Pace with K-12 Online Learning: A Review of State Level Policy and Practice finds that the number of states offering technology-based learning programs is increasing, but the accessibility and scale of the programs still vary greatly — from state virtual schools with open enrollment, to state-led online initiatives and charter schools, to full-time online programs, and single-district programs. Many states have caps on enrollment, which can only be lifted through legislative means.

At the federal level:

  • Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA):
  • Recognizing technology-based learning as a critical component of education reform in the reauthorization;
  • Allowing federal dollars to be spent on innovative practices to enhance technology-based learning;
  • Providing professional development for schools and districts to expand their programs;
  • Expanding Investing in Innovation Fund (I3) definitions to allow for additional innovation grants to technology-based programs;
  • Creating incentives to encourage state and local governments to remove existing policy barriers (i.e. caps).
  • E-rate: subsidized federal loan program, providing faster high-speed Internet to schools, public libraries, and community Internet services–particularly in poor and rural areas.

There are actions being taken to move digital learning to the forefront of education and away from the niche role it plays today. In August, the Digital Learning Council (DLC) – which unites a diverse group of more than 50 leaders from education, government, philanthropy, business, technology, and think tanks – was established to develop the roadmap of reform for local, state, and federal lawmakers and policymakers.  The goal of the DLC is to identify the digital learning policies and practices that local, state, and national leaders should adopt to create a high-quality digital learning landscape, empowering our schools and students with the tools necessary for success in 21st century skills.

The Digital Learning Council will cover many of the facets of digital learning discussed in this blog including:

• online and virtual schools,
• personalized learning,
• blended learning,
• digital content,
• online and mobile social networks,
• classroom technology,
• ensuring equity,
• security and privacy, and
• the promotion of parental choice.

The final recommendations of the DLC will be the focus of a nationwide campaign to urge adoption of the policy principles by states, track states’ progress, and encourage best practices.

As we think about the best way to “Retool” and “Renew” in light of the current economic climate, I urge you to keep two things in mind: 1) The best economic stimulus is a high school diploma and 2) Our goal today–and every day– is to ensure that every student graduates from high school ready for college, career, and life.

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