In 2014, 422 digital learning policies were implemented across the country, with over 1000 digital education bills debated in recent years, according to a new Digital Learning Report Card from the Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd).
That represents an “unprecedented surge of activity at state level over past four years,” said John Bailey, vice president of policy at ExcelinEd, a Florida-based national nonprofit focused on education policy, including technology use in the classroom.
Although only two states, Utah and Florida, received ‘A’ grades on the Digital Learning Report Card this year, the researchers are optimistic about progress in states’ digital learning efforts. Half of the states improved their grades this year, and nine states moved out of the ‘F’ grade category.
The digital learning grades are calculated based on states’ adoption of ten policies, which were determined as key aspects of successful digital initiatives in 2010 by the Digital Learning Council, a group of 100 education leaders, policymakers, and blended learning experts assembled by former Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush and former W. Va. Gov. Bob Wise. The policy elements cover issues such as student access, quality of content and instruction, funding, and digital infrastructure.
States are making significant improvements to their digital policies, allowing districts more flexibility and opportunity for innovation in tech efforts, said Bailey. States have made progress in developing strong digital infrastructures, partly with the help of E-rate funding, and improving student access to technology and online courses, said Erin Lockett, policy coordinator of Digital Learning Now, an ExcelinEd initiative focused on digital education policy.
As digital learning policies become more prevalent, concerns over student data protection are an increasingly important part of the digital education conversation. Bailey emphasized a rise in student-data-privacy legislation over past two years, a trend the researchers expect to continue.
To address privacy concerns, Bailey suggested that states might follow steps Georgia has taken, including creating a chief privacy officer at the department of education, requiring audits and security reports, transparency, and placing limitations on companies’ access to and use of student data.
Student data privacy issues are gaining traction at the state and federal level, with over 20 states enacting laws to protect student data in 2014, and a revamped student data privacy bill expected to be introduced in Congress this week.
Allocating resources for digital initiatives can be a challenge for states, but Bailey said there are “many creative ways to secure funding regardless of political and budgetary structure.” Ohio established a “Straight A fund” to support comprehensive blended learning models, Louisiana and Florida provide funding for online learning, and North Carolina created a public/private partnership to extend E-rate funds.
Digital Learning Now has authored the national digital learning report cards for the past four years, and receives funding from several philanthropic groups to conduct their research.
As to the future of digital learning, Bailey predicts increasing opportunities for students to take course online or in blended learning environment, more options for state-approved online classes, and a focus on competency-based learning. “State policy can remove roadblocks to students’ digital learning opportunities, Bailey said.
All images courtesy of Digital Learning Now.
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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.