John shares his thoughts on the role education technology plays on greater reform initiatives and where we stand as a country in these efforts. We also learn about Digital LearningNow! and their current work to advance policies aimed at the creation of high-quality digital learning environments. John shares his thoughts on the power and staying-power of MOOC’s and other advances in education technology.
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Dr. Rod: John, Welcome to the program.
John: Thank you, it’s great to be with you.
Dr. Rod: It’s nice to be with you too. I want to make sure that everybody understands a little bit about digital learning before we dive into some of the topics at The National Summit on Education Reform here in Boston. Please share the mission of Digital Learning Now! and some of the objectives that you are working towards.
John: Digital Learning Now! is an organization that grew out of the work that Governors Jeb Bush and Bob Wise launched two or three years ago. They asked the question, “What are the policy and regulatory barriers that are getting in the way of new uses of technology and how can we use those either to help strengthen teaching, improve learning, or to create entirely new models of education?” We have a lot of legacy regulations that were formed, and laws passed, never envisioning the types of online learning, computer adaptive learning, and blended learning models that we have today. We need policies and regulations to create space and room for innovation. We work with state policy makers to help create that room for innovation.
The reason we focus on states is because that’s where the vast majority of regulation and policy is for the majority of education in the United States. We do a little bit of federal work but to give you a sense, last year there were 800 digital learning bills debated in state legislatures. Of those, 151 passed and were signed into law. That’s an incredible amount of volume. In comparison, not a single federal education bill passing. There are enormous amounts of activity and interest in education. We want to make sure the conversation is informed and helpful.
Dr. Rod: For the parents that are sitting around at their kitchen table listening to this interview, what level of confidence should they have in state leaders that they (state leaders) are going to get their children to the next step utilizing a digital platform? You hear a lack of trust from parents that state leaders can stop the infighting in D.C. and put together packages of curriculum that matter, so that kids want to go to college. We see the college enrollment numbers declining again this year, and there’s just that fearful question from a parent’s standpoint of, “Are our leaders actually working for us to make sure that our students are the best and the brightest?”
John: To put it another way, are our leaders up to the challenge that we face as a nation? Parents are rightly sensitized to it in terms of their children and their experience, After all, we are doing this interview literally hours after this whole budget and debt ceiling got resolved. But I would also say, you have no greater contrast in terms of public policy making than what has gone on the last 4 weeks in Washington D.C., versus the 800 state policy leaders here that have come from across political spectrums, We have Democrat and Republican here that are passing laws and programs, are trying out new approaches and new innovations, and are learning from each other. They really are trying to tackle a lot of the different challenges and I’m hugely optimistic.
I think we have an incredible crop of state leaders. We work a lot with this organization called Chiefs for Change . They’re some of the leading Chief Education Officers in the country. They’re looking at very creative ways to make sure teachers are supported, that we measure and hold schools accountable, but that we also give them the resources, tools, and interventions to help reach the kids that are hard to reach. They’re also working to help kids that can go on faster, to take more advanced courses. I think that increasingly, we’re seeing policy makers turn to technology and next generation models of learning. Those are just some of the tools in educator’s toolbox, but I think they’re very powerful tools and they provide a lot of option to parents, teachers, and school leaders.
Dr. Rod: How do we turn the focus on teacher preparation? I’ve just had a number of interviews around the new standards that CAEP put out. There are a lot of individuals looking to get States to buy into that so we can have a better crop of teachers. It often seems in the media, and the public eye, that we’re not really focusing on the next group, yet new teachers leave within the first 5 years. 46% is the number I think . So how do we engage them with a focus on teacher preparation?
John: We have to take a step back before we think about teacher preparation, and think about the teacher profession. Teaching is probably the only profession where we expect someone who starts in it, to stay in it for 30 years. It is an unusual cultural phenomenon. If you find that there is someone who trained to be a lawyer, and they were a lawyer for 5 or 10 years but then they switched and went into a non-profit or went to become business leaders, we don’t think any differently of that. We don’t judge the law profession as being inadequate. We say the same thing of business. We find a lot of business leaders, when they get to a certain point, they want to pivot and try something different. They want to go into a non-profit or go into teaching. We have to stop thinking of the teaching profession in our generation’s style, where someone was a teacher for 30 years.