Virtually There

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If Massachusetts has because of lack of leadership within the Board and the Department of Education, ground to a halt on digital learning, other states are moving fast. Let me give you two examples — one (Michigan) where the governor is particularly interested in digital learning and trying to make big changes fast; the other (Arizona) where “blended learning” is at the cutting edge.

A month or so ago, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder laid out his education agenda. Admittedly, Gov. Snyder comes to his new gig with a strong background in computer technology, having in the past helmed Gateway Computers. Drawing off research from a local think tank, he saw how digital learning programs could save money and increase student time on task.

Syder wants online learning to be an option available for students across the state, and not in a top-down structured manner. Instead, he wants to eliminate “seat-time” requirements for students and create something akin to what Florida did with its Virtual School (FLVS). (Snyder even stole FLVS’s slogan “Any Time, Any Place, Any Way, Any Pace.”) Unlike what we’ve seen in Massachusetts on this issue, Snyder calls for “leveraging technology” by giving

every child in Michigan who needs or wants up to two hours of daily online education must receive it. To help enable this policy, any enrollment caps or seat time requirements on virtual schools should be removed.

Gov. Snyder’s speech is well worth reading for its ambitious plan to push forward fast. But let me highlight a couple of passages:

Michigan’s state foundation allowance should not be exclusively tied to the school district a child attends. Instead, funding needs to follow the student. This will help facilitate dual enrollment, blended learning, on-line education and early college attendance. Education opportunities should be available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Snyder is introducing “proficiency-based funding” rather than funding for “seat time.” He is proposing legislation that “includes mandatory schools of choice for every public school district.” Essentially, he would do away with district boundaries and “resident students in every district [would] have first choice to enroll, but no longer [would] school districts be allowed to opt out from accepting out-of-district students.”

That’s significant stuff that Massachusetts couldn’t do because local taxes pay a significant portion of the overall school budget. Whether he gets there is a big question, but on online learning, he almost certainly will:

We must minimize all state and local barriers that hinder innovation at the local level, including seat time regulations, length of school year, length of school day and week, and the traditional configurations of classrooms and instruction. Blended learning models, where students receive instruction from high quality online educators, along with face-to-face instruction from high quality classroom teachers should be encouraged. School districts that embed technology into blended classroom instruction or embrace total online learning, project-based learning, and experiential learning models will make the system more cost-efficient, competitive, innovative, and effective in motivating student achievement.

When Snyder talks about digital learning and the opportunity to blend together classroom teaching and technologies, he ought to look to the Carpe Diem Collegiate High School and Middle School in Yuma (AZ), which is gaining a lot of attention as one avenue for real integration of technology into the curriculum and day-to-day classroom teaching. Carpe Diem is being visited by lawmakers, eight state superintendents, foundation officials and others interested in transforming education through technology. You get instead a brief look from your monitor in this 8-minute video.

Carpe Diem Marketing Video – Final Cut from Nicholas Tucker on Vimeo.

You can access Carpe Diem’s course catalogue here. As Carpe Diem’s website highlights, its academic program is

a “hybrid” program consisting of on-site teacher-facilitators (coaches) and computer-assisted instruction (CAI) utilizing a computer-based learning and management system. Our program offers an extensive online library of interactive instructional courseware, providing learners and teachers with access to thousands of hours of self-paced, mastery-based instruction.

Our program considers individual differences in ability, knowledge, interests, goals, contexts and learning styles. Our instructional resources and strategies give our “coaches” the power to effectively tailor their instructional practices, accommodating the individual needs of the learner with the goal of achieving student mastery.

Carpe Diem is about course completion, but its real goals are “character and content proficiency (learning mastery)”—

Another CDCHS innovation has to do with our instructional philosophy: Teaching isn’t just about learning, it’s about connecting with our students and parents in order to form a true learning community. Courses are designed to maximize student-teacher-parent relationships and involvement, which is critical to every student’s success. Teachers at Carpe Diem actually enjoy their students, mentoring and “coaching” them one-on-one every day. But we aren’t just about teaching the mind, we are also about helping develop the whole person.

Our curriculum includes character education, the arts, languages and even physical education in order to help our students have balance and enrichment in their educational experiences. As you can see, education at Carpe Diem is far more than grades; it’s about life.

Virtually, Massachusetts is way behind states across the country – places not known for as sustained and comprehensive a commitment to reform as the Bay State. Let’s not rest on our laurels and think that the job is done. It isn’t. Colorado, Arizona and, if Governor Snyder gets his way, Michigan are moving ahead energetically.

Why then are placing all kinds of obstacles in the way of the provisions of the 2010 education reform law that was to expand digital learning in Massachusetts? Why insist on the status quo?

Crossposted at Boston.com’s Rock the Schoolhouse blog. Follow me on twitter at @jimstergios, or visit Pioneer’s website.

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