Friday, October 30, 2009

School budgets cutting to the bone

Budget cuts are threatening innovation and 47% of ARRA funds are not innovating – just filling holes as reported by eSchool News. I don’t think this is surprising as budget cuts hit everyone. But when you cut charter school per pupil funding and they are already funded at a lower rate than other public schools, it really hurts. They are also going after the virtual schools.

The next two years are going to be painful for innovation budgets. All the billions of dollars the feds are pouring into states and districts are just going to be used to try to stem the hemorrhaging.

As for student achievement – don’t expect much with these deep cuts.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

$40M Reasons to Digitize Texts

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt just signed a $40 million multi year deal to sell a computer based teaching system it developed with Microsoft to connect teachers, students and administrators. It is a shift away from textbooks!

There are some texts but it mostly involves a customized interactive classroom. So in order to survive in the new world of textbook publishing, they are bringing together the best of learning management systems and content to schools.

Over at ABCTE we have an RFP for LMS and are fascinated with how many systems are out there. The group that really puts together a "best of" content, content delivery, and management will be the new leader in the business formerly called textbook publishing.

Now we just need to get them some Scholarity to create a tutor-like experience for students through software and we can really watch this take off!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Kindle replaces library books!

The Kindle is coming! One school at a time is what it is going to take. But when you do the numbers, this is a financial decision that comes with so many benefits that you cannot deny the need. Our kids are digital natives who demand technology and will see getting a Kindle as already behind the times.

The next wave of textbooks/libraries will be fully interactive. So while I applaud this move by one school moving to digital libraries and textbooks, we need to really think about the next step and the book-lovers need to stop freaking out. I yearn for the day that kids no longer tote backbreaking books home every night.

As a side note, I just signed up for the iNACOL virtual school symposium in Austin – hope to see you there to learn even more about the next step in online learning!

Monday, October 26, 2009

School District Spending Cuts

The school spending bubble is about to burst and the cuts taken last year are going to seem minute compared to what will happen in two years when the stimulus money is gone. Already schools are taking drastic action cutting sports, charging more for students services (now $200 for the right to park at school in Loudoun County, VA) and cutting staff. In Utah, districts sharply cut overhead positions and those who were affected went back into teaching positions putting a freeze on any new hiring. But there isn't much overhead left to cut and the numbers are going to be large - so where are the savings going to come from?

Schools don’t work like a business. If a business is faced with steep revenue reductions they look to create efficiencies in their operations to ensure that the output can improve with less cost. There are many efficiencies that teachers can realize through technology and maybe, as the cuts get even deeper, we will actually see some of these. We are already seeing California move to digital textbooks – can digital classes be far behind?

School district spending cuts don’t have to reduce student learning as long as we finally leverage technology in the classroom. I think school districts will finally be forced to blow up the current staffing model due to budget shortfalls and finally use computers in the classroom to provide truly differentiated instruction.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Virtual Charter Schools Held Back

NACSA held a pretty good conference here in Utah this week. A lot of talk about holding charter schools accountable including how to replicated great charter schools and close the weak. Virtual charters were a large part of the discussion since charter authorizers have to figure out ways to ensure that they can manage the growth in online learning.

That lead to some revelations on the insanity that in US charter laws. The first that obviously affects ABCTE teachers is that in some states there are requirements that all virtual teachers be state certified – sometimes at a higher percentage than in brick and mortar schools. The second is that seat time takes precedence over subject matter mastery for students.

Both are ridiculous. Online learning is supposed to fully leverage great talent regardless of geographic location. If a great physics teacher in Pennsylvania is available to inspire future scientists in Utah – they shouldn’t have to jump through hoops in all 50 states to become a teacher.

The real beauty of online learning is truly differentiated instruction. But in our system, if the student masters algebra in 3 months, they don’t get credit unless they sit in front an algebra course for 180 days.

Our laws need to help technology work to increase learning – not hold it back so that the adults can feel better.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Digital Texts

Having paid way too much for college text books for my daughters, I appreciate the fact that the economy is driving more schools to use digital texts. In this Washington Post article on digital textbooks, it points out that California is moving that way but meeting some resistence.

How can their be resistence when so many students are digital savvy and the current cost is so high? It is the publishers with a $7 billioni industry trying to protect their livelihoods.

In Liberating Learning the authors say that digital content will be offered for free and it is the support materials that will make publishers money. I don't think it will ever be free, but the price will come down and the support materials will be much more important.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Florida Virtual Schools - Innosight

Another great summary by Innosight on the Florida Virtual Schools. Last year they had over 154,000 students in online learning in Florida. Having seen Gov. Jeb Bush at the Excellence in Education conference last week talk about how well Florida is doing in closing the achievement gap through all reforms, you can't help but realize that online learning has been a part of this.

Thanks to Innosight, we can keep seeing these great success stories to help make the case for more online learning so that every student has the chance to succeed.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Technology Catching up with Students

It really is crazy that it is taking so long for education to catch up with students when it comes to technology. A kindle costs less than some text books yet we (parents like me) still pay top dollar for books that rarely get used. Instead of full texts, why aren't professors buying sections of the text just like we buy only the songs we want from an album on iTunes?

It is good to see articles like this in the USAToday - but frustrating to see the pace so slow and the coverage only talking about a few schools.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Online education statistics

EPI Today has a great "did you know" section every day. It puts the education debate into a great factoid of the day complete with statistics. Monday's EPI article is about a USA Today article on virtual education . From EPI:

"The online education sector grew 13% last year and had been growing at about 20% in previous years. Nearly one in four students take at least some college courses online, up from one in 10 in 2002. Two million students older than the traditional 18-22 year-old undergraduates take all their courses online and two million more take one or more online course. Twenty-nine percent of U.S. adults have a college degree, fewer than in many other industrialized nations. Only about 40% of Americans who start college graduate. The price of higher education, which rises by an average of 8% a year, contributes to the high dropout rate."

Lower costs improves access and improved availability could increase graduation rates. We continue to see the disruptive innovation in the university system. Let's hope it moves faster in K12.