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.
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
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 //digitallearningnow.com/dln-smart-series/ and follow the Twitter hashtag #smartseries.
The opinions expressed in Vander Ark on Innovation are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.