Digital Advocacy Group Wields Policy Influence
Bipartisan organization attracts attention, criticism
When the educational technology advocacy group Digital Learning Now! revealed its first state report cards gauging where states stand in supporting online learning, it was in part applying the adage that what gets measured gets done.
Observers say the report cards, which were released in 2011 to rate states according to 10 elements of what the group considers high-quality digital learning, have already had an impact on state policy and are likely to help guide future decisions about online learning.
"Without question, [the organization's goals] are showing up in the legislation," said Douglas Levin, the executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association, based in Glen Burnie, Md. "A vast majority of states have put this on their agenda in one way or another."
Since releasing the report cards, Digital Learning Now! has kept up the pressure on the issue, said Mr. Levin.
The advocacy campaign is a team effort between the Tallahassee-based Foundation for Excellence in Education, led by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican, and the Washington-based Alliance for Excellent Education, headed by former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, a Democrat.
"That bipartisan leadership is different for sure, and quite significant," Mr. Levin said. "Although at the state level, it may or may not feel bipartisan, depending on the politics of the state."
The report cards evaluate states on a variety of categories, including whether students have access to digital learning; whether digital content, instruction, and teachers are of high quality; and whether infrastructure supports digital learning.
States are taking notice. In April, Oklahoma officials held a Digital Learning Summit aimed at developing "a vision document based on the 10 elements of high-quality digital learning." Rhode Island held a similar summit in February.
The e-learning advocacy group Digital Learning Now! has created a report card for each state, rating digital-friendly policies and practices from coast to coast. Each report card provides numerical ratings in 10 different categories or “elements of high-quality digital learning.” Each element is scored based on a number of metrics—72 over all the categories.
The map featured here highlights each state’s rating for offering quality choices for digital learning. The number given to each state reflects how many of the 13 total metrics have been achieved in this category. The quality-choices category evaluates states on measures such as whether state law authorizes digital providers; whether a state offers public options for digital learning; whether funding is equitable for any form of virtual school (public, charter, or forprofit); and whether a state has a website to provide the public with information about digital learning opportunities.
State legislation, too, is building on Digital Learning Now!'s efforts. In April, for example, Georgia's governor signed the Digital Learning Act, which requires students to complete at least one online course before graduation, mandates that end-of-year core subject assessments be administered online by 2014-15, and permits districts to contract with virtual learning providers approved by the state department of education. An education improvement package in Louisiana provided more school choice options for students, including through online learning. Florida also passed the Digital Learning Now Act, enacted in 2011, which requires that districts establish virtual instruction options, authorizes virtual charter schools, and requires an online learning course for high school graduation.
But Gene V. Glass, a senior researcher for the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said other than Florida's legislation, Digital Learning Now!'s influence is limited. "Nobody talks about Digital Learning Now!'s state ratings. They're just tooting their own horn," he said.
John Bailey, the executive director of Digital Learning Now! and a former director of the office of educational technology for the U.S. Department of Education, disagreed, saying many lawmakers want to move forward on this issue, but need some guidance.
"We want to be a technical resource to states so as they're thinking through legislation or regulations," he said, "we're helping them think through some of the thorny issues."
Vol. 32, Issue 02, Pages s4,s5