Mike Klein Online

Online Digital World Will Re-Imagine and Liberate Learning

Mike Klein

Mike Klein

What we know or can know about each other never ceases to amaze me and it constantly evolves.  Netflix knows the movies we like.  Amazon knows what we want to purchase.  Websites target us with messages based on how we use websites.  Even toddlers use the web for videos and games as they acquire skill sets that will be essential for learning and success.

The all-knowing online world will re-imagine and liberate learning.  “Education used to be someplace you went to.  You used to go to school to learn,” says John Bailey, executive director of Digital Learning Now!  “Now all of a sudden learning can come to wherever the student is located.”

You’re probably not going to hear extensive legislative conversation about personalized digital learning during the 2013 General Assembly.  One reason is two bills passed last year that will significantly alter the state’s blended and online learning footprint.  The other reason is a digital learning deep water study is underway by a task force appointed by Governor Nathan Deal.

Senate Bill 289 established several goals.  First, it said all public school students in grades three through 12 should have online learning options starting as early as the 2013 – 2014 school year.  Second, all 2014 fall high school freshmen should enroll in at least one online learning course before graduation.  Finally, the Senate bill struck down rules that enabled local districts to deny permission when students wanted to enroll in Georgia Virtual School (GAVS) courses.

House Bill 175 instructed state education officials to develop a clearinghouse of courses from public school districts and private sources.  This could include GAVS state-developed courses, curriculum that Georgia local school districts develop, and also courses from private education companies, such as the Georgia Cyber Academy courses.  The intent is to create an extensive library that would be available statewide to everyone through the DOE at no cost to students.

“Part of what we do is work with state lawmakers, with district leaders, with thought leaders, often being asked, where are the states we should be looking at?” said Bailey when he was in Georgia to address the Governor’s digital learning task force.   “Often we are talking about the work you are doing here in Georgia.”  Bailey is a former White House domestic policy advisor under President George W. Bush.  He also worked with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Digital Task ForceThis week the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement unveiled its new Digital Learning Task Force website.  The site contains an exhaustive definition of digital learning, names of  task force members, the task force public meeting schedule, a long list of digital learning resources and highlights from school districts that are considered out front of the curve.  You can also find a new state Department of Education digital learning status report required by Senate Bill 289.

Thirteen task force members have been asked to make recommendations on access options, course considerations – who creates courses, who approves them, who pays for them? – and some significant infrastructure questions – which schools have the necessary technology and which do not, who pays for that technology, what is the private sector role in technology?

The task force is coordinated by Sam Rauschenberg, deputy director at the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement.  He told the Foundation, “Since improving digital learning in Georgia will take a team effort the report may also include recommendations for schools and districts on how to move the ball forward in digital and blended learning.”

Bob Swiggum, Georgia Department of Education

Bob Swiggum, Georgia Department of Education

Access, courses and infrastructure are three big essential pieces.  Dig deeper and there is more at hand.  What is the role of the traditional textbook in future learning; has the back-breaking book bag finally had its day?  Who will teach the teachers how to teach this new model; how quickly can they be prepared?  How do we prepare parents for learning that they never experienced?  What is the future for competency-based learning that allows students to advance when ready?  How do you create incentives that will make local schools want to participate in online learning models? And a very central question that will also be considered, what are the funding model options?

The development of an online courses clearinghouse is proceeding rapidly.  About a dozen contributors including the Gwinnett and Forsyth school districts along with many private learning companies have submitted courses for review.  State education officials are evaluating courses using national standards established by Achieve and iNACOL, the International Association for K-12 Online Learning.  Hundreds of courses could be posted online as early as next month.

“Once we have it ready we will show it to legislators and ask them, are there any showstoppers here?” said Bob Swiggum, chief information officer at the Department of Education.  “If the answer is no we will probably open it up right on the DOE website as another tool.”  Marketing will be word-of-mouth and via the DOE web; there is no paid marketing budget available.

During his presentation to task force members last month Bailey emphasized that students live in an era of customization whether they are interacting with video, music or nearly any other aspect of their lives. “The only place that is different is education where we ask kids growing up in a personalized world to fit into a cookie cutter model,” Bailey said.  “That is a very frustrating disconnect.  That is what’s leading to dropout rates; it’s leading to kids being unengaged.”

The next task force meeting is scheduled for 1:00 pm on Tuesday, February 5 in the fifth floor conference room at the Georgia Tech Research Institute adjacent to Georgia Public Broadcasting in midtown Atlanta.  Discussion will focus on learning content.  The task force will submit final recommendations to Governor Nathan Deal Office and to legislators before the 2014 General Assembly.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

January 16, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Governor Deal at Eggs: No Such Thing as “Free Health Care”

Mike Klein

Mike Klein

Governor Nathan Deal said the state Department of Community Health has been told to reduce its amended current fiscal year budget by 3 percent and then find 5 percent more in new cuts next year to help the state absorb Medicaid costs that continue to escalate.  The state faces a Medicaid deficit that will approach $800 million during the next 18 months of its fiscal cycle.

Deal devoted nearly his entire speech to health care when he addressed the Georgia Chamber of Commerce annual “Eggs and Issues” breakfast Wednesday at the World Congress Center in Atlanta.   The Governor also suggested folks who cannot attend Thursday morning’s State of the State address should monitor his “Tweeter” account.  Deal will announce his budget during the speech, scheduled for 11:00 a.m. at the State Capitol.

“Georgians who have already received a paycheck this January have no doubt noticed that their payroll taxes went up and their take-home salary went down,” Deal said.  “This is the cost of entitlements.  If you think your taxes went up a lot this month, just wait till we hve to pay for ‘free health care.’  Free never cost so much.”

The push is on to quickly approve a Medicaid funding fix bill proposed by the Governor with an initial Senate floor vote perhaps this week.  Lt. Governor Casey Cagle and House Speaker David Ralston echoed their support for the governor’s bill that would give the Community Health board the authority to continue the hospital provider fee that would otherwise sunset in June.

The fee paid by all Georgia hospitals based on annual revenue is used to draw down federal dollars that are redistributed to hospitals that serve Medicaid patients.  The General Assembly enacted the fee three years ago to address a rapidly developing shortage in Medicaid funds caused by increased demand for services.  Deal said 12-to-14 hospitals would face closure if the provider fee is not continued.  DCH imposes a similar nursing home industry fee.

Governor Nathan Deal

Governor Nathan Deal

“In fact, we are one of 47 states that have either a nursing home or hospital provider fee or both,” Deal said.  The governor said “it makes sense to me” that DCH should have authority over both fees “for maximum efficiency and effectiveness.”  The move also means that state lawmakers would be spared having to vote to continue an expiring fee or impose a new one.

Deal said DCH has identified $109 million in cost-savings. “But this hardly covers the additional nearly $500 million in needed funds caused by growth in Medicaid expenses during the same time frame,” Deal said.  “This means we must make necessary cuts in other agencies and core functions of government since raising taxes is not an option I will accept!”

The governor is no fan or friend to the federal health care reform law known as Obamacare.

During the past several months the Deal administration said it will not expand Medicaid eligibility starting in 2014 because the state cannot afford more than $2.5 billion that it currently spends annually on Medicaid.  The federal government pays about $5 billion annually. Georgia anticipates its share of Medicaid costs will increase at least $1.7 billion over the next ten years.

Deal said the federal health care reform law will add $106 million to the cost of state-provided health care benefits for active and retired employees starting in 2014.  He also said Georgia will be assessed a new $35 million insurance tax starting in 2015.  About 13 percent of all state budget dollars currently pay for Medicaid or the state children’s health insurance programs.

“The irony to me is that there are those in the medical community who are urging the expansion of the Medicaid program while at the same time, they are seeing more and more medical providers refusing to accept Medicaid patients,” Deal said.  “If you are losing money now how do you reconcile the number of patients on whom you will lose even more money.”

Georgia also said it will not create a state health insurance exchange, as envisioned in the federal health care reform law.  “I see no benefit to our citizens to have a program bearing the name of the State of Georgia over which our elected or appointed officials have little if any say so,” Deal said.  “While many federal programs come with strings attached, these strings turn states into marionettes to be manipulated by federal bureaucrats.”

As for “Tweeter,” the Governor noted, “My staff tells me that I am really getting into the modern age.   You can go to my Tweeter account!” for updates on the State of the State address.  The address will be carried live on General Assembly and Georgia Public Broadcasting websites. GPTV will broadcast the State of the State address and the Democratic leadership response in their entirety at 7:00 p.m. on the legislative program “Lawmakers.”

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

January 16, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment