iNACOL Policy Update – Enabling Policies to Transform K-12 Education

December 17, 2014 by

iNACOL will be blogging weekly to share policy developments – both barriers and enablers – for the transformation to student-centered learning powered by blended and online learning. We’ll share updates on new and developing education policies, regulations, gubernatorial and legislative issues related to blended, online and competency education. A summary is below; the more detailed version with additional legislative information is available in the iNACOL Member Forums.

State Policy Highlights

  • Missouri introduced a bill to define school attendance by minimum hours, not days, creating flexibility in seat-time.
  • New York passed a law (awaiting Governor’s signature) and Missouri introduced a bill to establish task forces to improve access and equity through blended and online learning.
  • A bill in Virginia would create a new online school, the Virginia Virtual School, and create a funding model that would allow per pupil funds to follow full-time online students to the school.
  • A Florida bill would allow educators to use classroom data to improve education, expanding data systems and security.
  • In Oklahoma, one bill would create teacher licensure reciprocity and another would reduce funding for full-time virtual charters

Federal Policy Highlight

  • E-Rate Reform Finalized – The federal government successfully completed its work at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on E-Rate modernization. The FCC’s E-rate program connects the nation’s schools and libraries to broadband. The FCC launched the update of E-Rate in 2010 and last week completed its work to modernize the E-rate program to increase the focus on the largest and most urgent need—closing the wi-fi gap—while transitioning support away from legacy technologies to 21st Century broadband connectivity, ensuring E-rate money is spent smartly, increasing the funding cap and improving program administration.

To access more detailed information on these items and more policy highlights, including direct links to legislation, sponsor information, summaries and analysis, please go to the iNACOL Members-only Forums.

Note: Detailed highlights are provided for iNACOL Members in the Membership Forums (members-only), where you will find additional policy updates.  Members receive access to a members-only forum for job postings, policy updates, announcements, grant opportunities and the latest information from the field.

Already a Member? Access the Member Forums here: iNACOL Forums
Join iNACOL here: iNACOL Membership

Update on E-Rate Modernization

December 9, 2014 by

The FCC will vote on e-rate expansion, determining the future of broadband connectivity for schools and libraries.

On December 11, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will take an important step to expand high-speed broadband Internet access for K-12 schools and libraries.

Blended and online learning models are leveling the playing field to ensure that every student has access to a high-quality, personalized, world-class education. The goal of these new learning models is to prepare learners for a lifetime of success, regardless of zip code or socio-economic background. Without high-speed Internet access, however, students can’t benefit from media-rich learning environments. Students’ access to these educational opportunities depends on adequate broadband connectivity in schools, homes and communities.

About E-Rate

The Federal E-Rate program provides discounts on telecommunications services, Internet access and connections for libraries and schools. E-Rate was established in the 1996 Telecommunications Act during the “dial-up” era. Congress gave the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) the authority to determine appropriate program requirements and funding levels to address future changes in this telecommunications program. The current program is insufficient for the technology infrastructure needs of schools; demand for E-Rate funding to connect schools to high-speed broadband now outstrips the availability of funding in the current program by 2:1.

Last spring, iNACOL submitted comments to the FCC urging them to take action to modernize the E-Rate program, with specific examples and feedback from hundreds of iNACOL members.

In July, the FCC took an important step towards updating the E-Rate program. The FCC voted to set aside funding for improving internal Wi-Fi connectivity in schools and libraries, making the program more cost efficient. The order also addresses modernization issues by phasing out legacy services such as pagers and telephone landlines, and streamlines the application process.

The FCC has modernized and streamlined E-Rate for focusing funding on high priority needs such as wifi and to better maximize funding through partnerships for cost savings, and is addressing the funding cap.

Key FCC Vote on December 11

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is currently circulating a draft order to the FCC commissioners to raise the funding cap on E-rate. They will vote on this proposal on December 11.

If the order passes, it would increase the E-Rate funding cap by $1.5 billion to enable progress towards the goal of connecting 99% of students to high-speed broadband within the next five years.

Get involved

Ask the FCC to vote “YES” on social media. For example, tweet: “I believe #Internet4Schools matters. RT to tell the @FCC to vote yes to expand Internet access in schools.”

Thoughts on a new accountability paradigm

October 3, 2014 by

Recently, I was asked about starting a conversation on how a new accountability system might work.

The potential of new learning models that are personalized, student-centered and utilize powerful delivery modes in blended and online learning offer a glimpse into solving some of the core problems across our education systems for focusing on equity, improving access and expanding educational opportunity.

I think of this as a system aligned to student-centered learning. Meaningful data at the instructional level and systems of assessments provide much richer data than our current system utilizes. Imagine student data and evidence of students demonstrating their proficiency level (through a performance) on each and every standard along a learning progression.

Student-centered learning requires knowing where students are when they enter a program and requiring “systems of assessments” with entry benchmark assessment, formative assessments, performance-based assessments producing student evidence of demonstrated mastery, and underlying assessments producing various forms of data. Ultimately, this collection of data could answer the question, “How much learning is happening per unit of time?” — and help get to the heart of productivity.

One of the field’s constraints on thinking about new accountability is the construction of current IT/SIS systems designed only to ensure compliance with current regime.

Rethink student-centered data first. What if every student had a profile that was standards-based and allowed three pieces of evidence to be collected on each standard (paper/project/portfolios, evidence from embedded assessments, etc.)? What if that was coupled with validation of proficiency levels through summative assessments that are more modular in nature? (Summative assessments could also be on demand or, as Tom Vander Ark suggests, with a sampling to validate the data on the ground to ensure rigor.)

This system would enhance “actionable data” toward the point of instruction and provide real-time evidence of learning to teachers. This data can be rolled up to inform new accountability. Gene Wilhoit suggests we should include systemic thinking on how accountability should look by first focusing on the data needed for instruction and personalizing learning, and then asking what data is needed at what level:

  • What does the district need to know for accountability?
  • What does the state need to know for accountability?
  • What does the federal government need to know for accountability?

All of this could be provided (for the sake of argument) in a real-time dashboard.

We need to rethink our paradigm – we must rethink summative assessment utility as “moderating assessments” for the data on the ground. And have a sampling regime using them (but in more modular format throughout the year) as audits of that data. The current accountability system is actually masking the true achievement gaps that exist. It only tests for annual determination of age/grade cohorts. Redesigned accountability could use real, actionable data to roll up the analysis.

Gene Wilhoit, Linda Pittenger and Linda Darling-Hammond are already doing a lot of work on this concept of new accountability with a few pioneering states. Their new paper is Accountability for College and Career Readiness: Developing a New Paradigm and it rethinks what starting from scratch with a system that makes sense for a student-centered, deeper learning would look like.

From iNACOL/CompetencyWorks  Here’s a link to a paper we co-authored on the topic:

A K-12 Federal Policy Framework for Competency Education: Building Capacity for Systems Change

For focusing on equity, improving access and expanding educational opportunity, this alignment around student learning would help drive continuous change in these areas:

  • Equity – blended learning utilizes the best of online learning to pinpoint student needs and gaps and personalize instruction;
  • Improved access – online learning offers access to many courses that students need to graduate on time and to be prepared for college and careers;
  • Alignment around student learning – knowing where every student is on their personalized learning plan; focusing in on student interests and multiple ways of presenting evidence on rigorous standards to ensure student success; and offering assessments that are aligned every day to the learning process rather than “once a year” litmus tests that hold no teeth for kids, would help to reorganize the system around learning and student developing competencies.

Imagine new, constructive models that support achieving mastery and are meaningful to improvements in student learning – while offering much richer data to inform true accountability.

This is the beginning of a very important conversation in the field of K-12 education around new accountability. We very much hope to engage in pushing thinking around the challenge (and promise) of ensuring every student has access to a world class education that will prepare them for success, regardless of what zip code they live in.

Applauding Today’s FCC Vote to Improve E-Rate to Provide Greater Access to Innovative, Personalized Learning Environments for America’s Students

July 11, 2014 by

iNACOL congratulates the FCC for taking positive action to modernize the E-Rate program for U.S. schools and libraries and driving change for the public good in expanding access to broadband for our nation’s students.

Today’s vote toward a modernized E-Rate program is a significant step to ensure America’s students are prepared to meet future challenges. While we will continue to need the basics, our students need new skills and we need to update our education system to prepare all Americans for the challenges of the 21st century. Providing improved Internet access in our nation’s schools and libraries is a major step in the right direction. Chairman Wheeler and Commissioners Clyburn and Rosenworcel have supported a crucial update of E-Rate to expand essential internal wi-fi connectivity for school and community learning environments. With this change, we applaud the FCC’s work to simplify and streamline the process for our schools and libraries.

This vote underscores how vitally important it is that education leaders continue to work with the FCC to strengthen and update the E-Rate program to make certain our students get the best education possible. Across the country, innovative educators are transforming learning environments to enable highly personalized learning experiences for students through blended and online learning. These new models of learning cannot succeed without high-speed broadband connections to schools and robust internal connectivity to bring those connections to each educator and learner.

Thanks to the leadership and support of the FCC today, more of America’s students will have access to these opportunities.


E-Rate Update

July 3, 2014 by

The Federal Communications Commission released a report on July 2nd of the potential impact of a pending proposal to modernize the federal E-Rate program to meet a pressing demand by the nation’s schools and libraries: robust connectivity to the Internet through Wi-Fi networks. The report provides a state-by-state breakdown of the estimated number of additional students, schools and libraries that would gain E-rate funding needed for Wi-Fi upgrades over the next five years under the proposal by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. Nationwide, the proposal would increase funding for Wi-Fi 75 percent for rural schools and 60 percent for urban schools, allowing an additional 44 million students and 16,000 libraries to have access to Wi-Fi services by 2019, all within existing program funding.

Chairman Wheeler stated, “Modernizing E-Rate to expand Wi-Fi connectivity in schools and libraries will empower students and library patrons to use the latest education technology to access new learning opportunities and infinite worlds of information.”

On July 11, 2014, the FCC will vote on an E-Rate modernization proposal that would dramatically increase support for Wi-Fi connections in schools and libraries. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler put forward this proposal as the first step in comprehensively modernizing the program. The proposal has three goals:

  • Close the Wi-Fi gap – get high-speed Internet to all classrooms and libraries by 2019.
  • Make the program rules fairer – ensure funding is available to the vast majority of schools and libraries, not just a few.
  • Maximize existing funds – streamline the program and make it faster, simpler, more efficient for all schools and libraries.

You may read a copy of the report HERE.


#BlendedLearning: What Adaptive Technologies Do (Answering the “To What End” Question)

June 6, 2014 by

The phone rings and a superintendent is asking, “What adaptive software do I need to personalize learning?” If only the question were so simple. How does this “stuff” work? Getting precise about what specific technologies actually do in the instructional model is an important step to clarify in implementing high-quality blended learning.

For years, people have been using technology to improve their lives based on their individual needs – having access to information on-demand. Teachers using instructional technologies can improve strategies and methods to help student learning in powerful ways. It is fundamental for school leaders and teachers as “learning designers” to understand the specific functions that any specific technology provides in a personalized, student-centered learning environment.

In a recent meeting iNACOL and CompetencyWorks hosted with practitioners and technical assistance providers – we began to deconstruct how adaptive technologies are used to support different instructional models.

Here are the top 5 ways adaptive technologies are used:

Adaptive – It is very important for education leaders and educators to define the functions for which we use adaptive technologies – or be precise about the different meanings of adaptive (for what purpose) in personalized, competency-based instructional models:

  1. Leveling: Example – the adaptive technology helps identify precise “levels” for student differentiated lexile levels.
  2. Real-time Scaffold (RtS) and In-Course Correction: Provide tools to identify strengths and weaknesses in student learning progressions and adapt in the moment (examples are DreamBox and SuccessMaker). These adaptive technologies are designed to offer pre-requisite scaffolds and supports, and when students demonstrate mastery, then they can seamlessly get back into learning progressions at the appropriate point to stay on track.
  3. Honing the Progression: Minimizing number of problems worked by adapting the learning pathway for student mastery resulting in efficiency in use of time and effort (remove 5 objectives you don’t need to work on because you mastered it already); there is an idea here on honing in on the areas to keep students on their own “learning edge” and exactly in the zone of proximal development.
  4. Limitless Pathway: Students can continue to move forward when they have mastered and demonstrated learning; adaptive pathways enable learning environments so students can always be working on the next sequential piece or keep them on the pathway/progression (in concepts along a building progression of learning).
  5. Recommendations: System recommends content objects based on student performance or has embedded recommendation engines.

Perhaps we should start being clear about the purposes of technology and answer “to what end” to understand how teachers and students benefit using technology to personalize learning in online and blended learning models.

We strategically need to think about the purpose of adaptive technologies to ensure the best tool selection for quality implementations of transformative, blended, personalized new learning models. Just because something has online and adaptive software doesn’t tell us about the model for transforming instruction to increase student agency or become more student-centered and personalized. We must ask ourselves – to what end?

Using the research on how students learn, the design of new learning models should built on best practices and research – and work to create student agency, voice and choice with the empowered leadership of educators transforming learning for every student’s needs and success in the 21st century.


Full disclosure statement: The CEO of DreamBox Learning serves on iNACOL’s Board of Directors; The author notes that both DreamBox Learning and Pearson (developer of SuccessMaker) have sponsored the iNACOL Blended and Online Learning Symposium.

Kansas: High quality online learning increases equity in education

April 4, 2014 by

(Testimony provided to the Kansas Senate Ways and Means Committee by iNACOL colleague Maria Worthen on April 1, 2014)

Chairman Masterson, Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony regarding proposed cuts to funding for online learning, which could have a catastrophic impact on educational opportunities for the 5,900 Kansas students who today benefit from this option.

iNACOL’s mission is to ensure all students have access to a world-class education and quality blended and online learning opportunities that prepare them for a lifetime of success. iNACOL is a non-profit organization with 4,400 members working in the field of blended and online learning. Our work is focused on research, policy, and quality.

Last year, we conducted an online learning cost adequacy study, which asked the question, “what are the actual resources needed to ensure all students could meet state standards and performance expectations in an online school or program?” Our research findings revealed the costs and funding levels required for online learning programs are different for a full-time online school or a supplemental online course provider, offering single courses. (more…)

Reflections on Education Ministry Meetings in Alberta, Canada – Positive Insights across North America and Lessons for the USA

February 21, 2014 by

In the New Year, I was able to travel to Edmonton – the capital of Alberta, Canada – to visit schools and meet with educators, education leaders and public officials as part of a delegation from the United States.

Focus on Values of Equity and Inclusion

Canada has the smallest achievement gap (the achievement gap between sub-groups of students) of OECD countries. All of the high performing countries on PISA have a very strong sense of shared values, and this was very evident across the meetings and school visits in Edmonton. Alberta’s values are clearly articulated here in a visionary document titled Inspiring Education and repeated at the school and classroom-level by educators from across many fields of study and levels of teaching and administration during site visits.

Alberta school leaders described a changing competency framework and the digital revolution. They described curriculum redesign and moving from very structured curriculum toward achievement of competencies. They discussed the need to:

  • Change how you want young people to learn
  • Change how you measure and benchmark successful outcomes
  • Understand the process for the journey takes a while (over years and requires a growth mindset and continuous improvement framework with flexibility)

Accountability in Alberta —16 Pillars of Accountability

Albert School Superintendents and administrators, like Paulette Hanna, explained that they wished to have accountability that would provide them with useful information on continuous improvement for building capacity at the classroom level and school level. Thus, the information would allow them to support educators and students in improving instructional models at the classroom level throughout the year – focused on student learning, quality and engagement.

The public official noted that if the measures were the correct ones for student learning, then the data would be very helpful for policy makers and accountability purposes, too. (more…)

State of the Union 2014: Opportunity Begins with the Promise of Student-Centered Learning

January 29, 2014 by

From opening words reflecting upon the power of education, the President’s address mirrored his commitment to ensure each American has access to a world-class education. This year’s State of the Union continued this pledge and reflected upon priorities such as STEM education, affordable higher education and the preparation of tomorrow’s workforce through initiatives such as ConnectED, with the goal of connecting the country’s students and schools to high-speed broadband and digital learning opportunities. The focus on innovation and education as drivers of opportunity for America’s students and the country was well received and a job well done.

iNACOL also applauds the continued efforts of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and policy leaders such as Acting Deputy Secretary of Education Jim Shelton. The Administration has placed great emphasis on spearheading innovation and change within our public school system. The Race to the Top programs have driven a strategy providing a greater focus on personalizing learning for each and every child. Because of this, there is renewed emphasis on how our schools and classrooms can individualize instruction for every child’s needs, provide greater equity through new learning models, empower practice through online and blended learning, and focus on moving from a one-size-fits-all education approach toward competency-based pathways.

As the President noted, “those who go all in on innovation today will own the global economy tomorrow.” And innovation breeds innovation. We believe in empowering student-centered, personalized learning that allows students to have tailored learning opportunities for each student’s strengths, needs and interests. In focusing on personalizing learning and opening access, new school models can unleash the promise and potential of each and every student in ways never before possible.

What our schools and our children need is a redesign of our education system to provide true equity of access and opportunity for every child to find success through student-centered policies and personalized learning environments. Technology has enabled true personalization in almost every facet of our lives, and we believe it can assist our schools and teachers accelerate every student’s achievement and success. Only then will we unleash the full potential of the next generation of American education to meet the promise of our democracy and society.

School Accountability > Student Learning Accountability

December 10, 2013 by

A series of posts focused on Student-centered Accountability 3.0 as a requirement for supporting student-centered learning.

(Part 3)

The current system of accountability is focused on school accountability – I propose the unit of measure and alignment should be “student learning” accountability.

It is focused on assessments for learning, to support students and educators, and to maximize resources around student learning needs and to build competencies on high standards.

How would assessments work?

  • Benchmark Entry Assessment – upon entry of a student into a program, an adaptive assessment needs to identify student profile for proficiency levels on standards; this will identify gaps in prior learning to address and close and enable students to see clearly what they have mastered and need to master in their learning progressions toward success.
  • Daily – formative assessments, embedded and performance assessments
  • Rubrics – rubrics that have been tuned by educators with agreement of what it actually looks like when a student demonstrates proficiency and advanced mastery on learning objectives and are needed for evaluating performance-based assessments.
  • Modular summative assessments – offering summative/moderating assessments through the ladder of learning progressions at the appropriate time when a student is ready for assessment throughout the year.

This requires a functional shift to multiple measures of student learning with all assessments having meaning for students in understanding where they are and how they are making progress toward their destination of college and career readiness.

Addressing each student exactly where they are upon entry and meeting individual student needs throughout the year with a focus on competency education is key, with students advancing upon demonstrated mastery of clear learning objectives.

Next time: In education, Accountability 3.0 focuses on each student’s personalized needs toward success, higher standards, and closing the achievement gap will require us to rethink accountability around student-centered learning.

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