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Digital Learning Now! Outlines 3 Strategies for Funding Computer Access

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By Tom Vander Ark and Carri Schneider

Digital Learning Now! (DLN) today released "Funding the Shift to Digital Learning: Three Strategies for Funding Sustainable High-Access Environments," the first in a new DLN Smart Series that will provide specific guidance on adoption of Common Core Standards and the shift to personal digital learning.

Because personal digital learning presents our best shot at boosting student achievement and preparing students for college and careers, we knew we had to start with student access to technology and high-quality digital learning for our first paper in the series. With online assessments scheduled to begin in 2014-15 in most states, we also knew leaders would be looking for ways to fund better student access to technology, so we went to the people we knew could offer the best advice -- those with experience implementing high-access environments.

Our research and conversations with leaders revealed three primary funding strategies: state and district provided, subsidized parent pay, and a mixed model, which includes "bring-your-own-device" (BYOD) policies.

We learned about state-purchased devices in Maine's MLTI program, and district-purchased devices in Mooresville, North Carolina. Our research on parent-purchase of devices revealed a continuum of from private schools that require laptop purchases, to a subsidized sliding-scale contributions in Portugal's Magellan Initiative, and the widespread use of small user fees in districts where students take computers home. While there are options to rely solely on state, district, and/or parent purchase of devices, we discovered that most leaders are choosing mixed funding models to create high access environments. We expect that most states and districts will choose this option and draw from multiple sources to fund device purchases and support.

These mixed models combine the reallocation of existing state and local funds with technology user fees and student-owned devices. We hope to see leaders also come together to harness the power of partnerships for bulk-purchasing and knowledge-sharing by creating "access partnerships" to fund the shift and ensure the sustainability of access programs. These partnerships could include a state matching grant program, a district contribution from reallocated funds, and a parent contribution.

In addition to the three potential funding models, "Funding the Shift to Digital Learning" also provides implementation guidance, including tools from Project RED, and insights from state and district leaders. Project RED research shows an average cost of moving from a traditional 3:1 classroom to a 1:1 classroom of $298 per student per year, with potential savings potentially matching or exceeding that.

Mooresville Superintendent Dr. Mark Edwards details how schools can shift to 1:1 learning environment for around one dollar per student per day. The BYOD story from Georgia's Forsyth County reveals how schools can build on existing assets and improve access through the devices students already own and are often already bringing to school (even in the face of policies that prevent them). However, BYOD is a top-off strategy--a way to move beyond a 1:1 environment--and not a replacement for a commitment to equitable access.

The paper offers several practical examples for leaders at all levels of the system to consider as they work to expand access. With the shift to online assessments and increased national attention to the importance of personalizing our education system ( like RttT-D), ensuring equitable student access to high-quality digital learning tools and opportunities is one the most important issues of our time. Without full access, students will be cut off from the possibilities for the personalization and customization of learning, and the opportunities to develop deeper learning skills necessary for college and career readiness.

The Digital Learning Now! state policy framework stems from the belief that all student should have access to quality learning experiences unbounded by geography or artificial policy constraints. Developed in 2010 with input from more than 100 experts, the framework was extended in 2011 to include a Roadmap for Reform that provides tangible steps toward systemic change, including specific recommendations for expanding student access to high-quality digital content, devices, educators, and providers.

Written in partnership with Digital Learning Now!, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, and Getting Smart, the DLN Smart Series will be released over the next year and will address topics such as building comprehensive learner profiles, preparing for online assessments, moving to competency-based learning models, financing student achievement, building big data policies, improving the teaching profession with blended learning, and more.

"Funding the Shift to Digital Learning" was co-written by John Bailey, Executive Director of Digital Learning Now!, Tom Vander Ark, Executive Editor of Getting Smart, and Carri Schneider, Director of Policy and Research of Getting Smart.

Download the full paper, "Funding the Shift to Digital Learning," and learn more at http://digitallearningnow.com/dln-smart-series/ and follow the Twitter hashtag #smartseries.

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