Mike Klein Online

Digital Learning Task Force Should Resist Safe, GO BOLD!



Go bold or go safe?  Those are two very different directions.  Soon we will see which direction a state digital learning task force chooses when its recommendations are released next month.  The task force created last year by Governor Nathan Deal in was told in specific executive order language that technology and digital learning are the future.  What does that mean?

Far-reaching, shoot-the-moon strategies that shove aside traditional obstacles could become transformational – that is, they would forever change the landscape.  Less aggressive but politically safe thinking would become largely transitional – that is, tweaks around the edges.

Georgia has recent experience with both transformational and transitional.

Three years ago the state empaneled a special council to recommend comprehensive tax and revenue policy reform.  Ideas from that high profile special council were so transformational, landscape changing and politically charged that the council’s excellent work was almost immediately laid to waste.  The report became a victim of its own aggressive recommendations.

Three years later, Georgia has fallen behind other southern states.  Soon, Georgia will have the highest maximum personal income tax rate among all southern states, something that Texas, North Carolina, Florida and others understand as they refine economic game plans.  Georgia did eliminate the energy tax on manufacturing inputs – you could easily debate that this was only a transitional idea — but the state has as yet failed to address larger tax policy questions.

Contrast the transitional approach to tax reform with the transformational approach to criminal justice reform.  With almost his first breath in office, Governor Deal implemented a multiple-year strategy to address adult and juvenile justice reform.  Georgia is now regarded as being among the small number of states that have the best ideas and infrastructure to monitor reforms.  Georgia is absolutely a transformational leader within the justice reform conversation.

Learning policy today is stuck between transition and transformation.  We know the brick-and-mortar model where everyone learns everything inside a classroom is on the way out, but we are not quite so far down the road that everyone can learn everything through online learning.  And, there are great inequities across the state – and the nation – due to resource availability.  There are also many different kinds of learners.  One-size-fits all will never be the best model.

When the Digital Learning Task Force met last week in Fayetteville, one member said her company would be out of business today if it was still trying to succeed with a 1985 business model.  Georgia schools are funded by something known as the Quality Basic Education Act – which was enacted in 1985.  Last week Deal said he would like to overhaul QBE if he is re-elected in November 2014.  At that, it could be years before anyone sees a new formula.

Another task force member said Georgia has plenty of virtual learning resources – and plenty of traditional learning resources, that is, classrooms – but co-mingling resources has not taken place.  Disincentives, particularly how education is funded, you know, on that 1985 QBE model, provide plenty of obstacles to the successful blending of virtual and traditional learning.  Not only was there no online learning in 1985, there was no online anything in 1985!

Traditionally, school systems and states needed to create what they taught.  Now teaching and learning resources are available from across the globe, from thousands of phenomenal sources, often just one click away.  Sometimes for free.  School systems and states no longer need to spend money writing courses.  Instead, they need to invest their tax dollars toward acquisition of outstanding content and make certain that infrastructure exists to reach learners everywhere.

This year the 14-member Digital Learning Task Force work groups focused on infrastructure requirements, blended and competency-based learning, and digital content and course resources.  The report due next month could serve as a placeholder, or a playmaker.

Boldly, the task force could state K-12 public education in Georgia will become entirely digital within a certain timeframe – for example, by the year 2025 – unless there is no digital course available for learners, which is highly unlikely because digital content creation is moving faster than the ability or interest of school systems to implement new online learning options.

Boldly, the task force could start the funding formula review by recommending state and local tax dollars should follow students to digital learning environments.  School systems absolutely should receive tax dollars for enrolled students, but student education should be funded where the students are – systems should not receive funds for students who are not there.

Some folks believe good things are happening in Georgia public education but nobody knows.  That’s also a problem.  Task forces are not created to change perceptions but this one should choose to Go Bold because going safe actually means going backward.

Georgia education can no longer afford to be transitional.  It must become transformational.

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

October 30, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Taking Shackles off Georgia’s Digital Learning Virtual School

Mike Klein

Georgia legislators have begun to remove shackles that prevented the Georgia Virtual School from achieving its vast potential to help connect students with digital learning.  Two bills would fix a flawed funding model, prohibit schools from blocking students who want to enroll in GAVS courses, and create an expanded clearinghouse of courses available statewide.

Legislation (SB 289) to fix the funding formula and significantly expand student access to digital learning has passed the Senate and this week it received unanimous voice vote approval in a House education committee hearing.  Legislation (HB 175) to create the state clearinghouse of online course offerings has passed the House and Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers sponsored SB 289.   As originally drafted, the bill required that each incoming student who begins his or her freshman year during the 2014 – 2015 school year would need to complete at least one online digital learning course prior to graduation.

The requirement to complete at least one course is now gone, but the intention remains strong. “I don’t think that’s such a big problem but I understand others do so we’re just saying it’s going to be available and we certainly want to encourage our (local school) systems to use it as much as they can,” Rogers said.

Georgia Virtual School has been a successful but nonetheless somewhat timid foray into digital learning.  GAVS is located inside the state department of education.  Seven years ago it began to offer a limited schedule of supplemental courses to students statewide.  GAVS is extremely valuable to students who need courses that are not offered locally, for instance, advanced placement and science courses.

But Georgia Virtual School enrollments were limited to just a few thousand per year by the General Assembly, and students could not enroll in GAVS courses unless they had permission from their local school system.  A state audit published in December 2010 reported that some local school systems admitted they would deny permission because they did not want to lose state funds.

The funding formula problem was addressed in the Senate legislation sponsored by Rogers.    Under the existing format a local school loses all state funds when a student selects a GAVS course over one offered in the local school.  Under the new formula the state would keep a portion of the cost up to $250 but the school would still receive up to $400.  In effect, the school wins $400 if the student is using GAVS resources.

Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers

Senate Bill 289 is also explicit about guaranteeing student access:  “A local school system shall not prohibit any student from taking a course through the Georgia Virtual School, regardless of whether the school in which the student is enrolled offers the same course.”

House Bill 175 will create a vehicle for local school systems and charter schools to share their online learning resources.  For example, Cobb County and Gwinnett County have extensive digital learning resources that they would be able to register with the state clearinghouse. These courses could be available to any student anywhere in Georgia.

Many education bills are working their way through the State Capitol, including the charter schools constitutional amendment resolution and a substantial reworking of the state funding formula, unchanged since 1985.  The digital learning bills have not received quite the same headlines as others but their potential impact to change how millions of Georgia students learn is vast.  Rogers estimated the number of GAVS students could grow from 15,000 next year to 100,000 in just a few years.

“Sometimes we forget the major role of education is to prepare our students for a future outside the classroom,” Rogers said.  “I think society in general has moved in that direction at a very rapid rate.  If a student takes anywhere from 48 to 60 classes over a four-year period in high school that one of them be a digital class is probably good for their preparation.”

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

March 15, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment