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Digital Learning Council Releases 'Road Map' to Ed. Overhaul

The recently commissioned Digital Learning Council has recommended major changes to state education policy that include abolishing seat-time requirements, linking teacher pay to student success, and overhauling public school funding models.

The recommendations are part of the council's 10 policy suggestions in a report issued Wednesday for states to use digital learning as a catalyst for education reform.

The council, headed by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, also suggests that, not only should all students have access to digital learning opportunities in the form of online or blended courses, but they should have choices between providers and methods of access.

The report is the result of a 90-day deliberation process that began when the council was commissioned in August. The council consists of about 100 leaders across government, education, business, technology, and research.

In a meeting with editors and reporters at Education Week, Wise and consultants Tom Vander Ark and Bennet Ratcliff explained that the suggestions were meant to strike a balance between high aspirations and realistic goals for states. But they cautioned that failing to seize the opportunity to combat decreasing funding and educational ineffectiveness with technologies that can reshape educational practice will leave states—and their students—behind.

"This thing is going to happen. The question is whether there is going to be a road map—one that provides some direction and at the same time major flexibility," Wise said at the meeting. "What we put down today in a year, technology can rapidly make obsolete. But, at least this provides a road map to every governor and every state chief policy maker and educator about steps we can begin implementing right now."

The sentiments—both behind the suggestions and the reason for their timing—echo others among ed-tech advocates, and particularly proponents of online learning. Last month, the International Society for K-12 Online Learning, or iNACOL, released a paper suggesting a move away from seat-time requirements to competency-based pathways that let students advance at their own pace after mastering concepts. Meanwhile, seizing on the budget challenges facing almost all districts in the current climate, the theme for the Consortium for School Networking's annual conference this upcoming March is "Mastering the Moment," referring to the opportunity for technology-driven reform fueled by the need to cut costs.

Altering educational pathways, funding structures, and pay structures could be the most difficult proposals for the council to sell. Abandoning seat time would take complete overhauls of state educational codes, while shifting funding and pay structures could draw opposition from teachers' unions and public school advocates.

"It's fair to say the transition is going to be difficult," Vander Ark said at the meeting. "It's complicated to fully transition the schools we have to the schools that we need. That's why we think online learning is an important entry point."

Vander Ark said groups like the Alliance for Excellent Education, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, iNACOL, and the Innosight Institute will spend the next year working to help drive policy changes in at least half of the 50 states, as will his consulting firm, VAR Partners.

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