Florida, Utah earn 'A's on 2014 Digital Learning Report Card

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For the second year in a row, Florida and Utah scored top marks in the 2014 Digital Learning Report Card, which was released Tuesday by the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

Nevada came in third with a B+. Five states – Tennessee, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska and Connecticut – got a failing grade.

States were measured by whether students had access to digital and personalized learning; whether students advanced by proficiency; the quality of the content, instruction and infrastructure; assessment and accountability; and amount of funding. The report also highlighted policies and laws that have passed in states like Florida, Vermont and Arizona that enable and encourage digital learning; 50 such bills passed last year after more than 400 were considered.

Compared with Florida, “you’d be hard-pressed to find another state with [such] diverse online course opportunities for students,” John Bailey, vice president of policy at the foundation, told EdScoop.

The Sunshine State is home to the largest virtual school in the nation and has a robust online learning program. Bailey also pointed to a new policy in place that allows students to receive high school credit for taking massive open online courses, or MOOCs.

The foundation was started in 2008 by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who stepped down as chairman to consider a run for the GOP presidential ticket. Bush has pushed for increased online learning in public schools as well as virtual charter schools, which have produced mixed results and stirred controversy in several states.

Several education technology companies that Bush encourages schools to embrace are also donors to his foundation, including Microsoft, Intel, News Corp. and Pearson, the Washington Post reported in January.

Bailey said Bush’s link to Florida and his love of online learning did not influence the report card’s outcomes.

“No, I don’t think so,” he said when asked if there was a connection. “The great thing about this is it’s pretty bipartisan, and there’s not much that’s politically sensitive on this. The issue is that [the report card] is really trying to make sure policy is pushing the traditional system to open opportunities for kids.”

Over the past year, half the states improved their grades overall, and 14 states moved up one letter grade compared with the previous year, according to the report card.

“It gives states a road map to be bold and aggressive,” Bailey said. “It’s not just about getting lots of computers in schools, it’s about giving students and teachers new opportunities they never had before. We hope states with lower scores, that this is a wake-up call for them.”

The report stresses that students who are “eligible for public school should be eligible for publicly funded digital learning” and encourages policymakers to shake up the status quo of education.

For example, limiting class size, creating teacher-to-student ratios that are set in stone or restricting a teacher’s ability to serve students at multiple schools “ignores the freedom and flexibility of digital learning,” the report states.

And rather than abiding by students’ birthdays, attendance and test scores as a way to promote them, schools should allow students to study at their own pace and advance based on their competency levels.

Other recommendations include abandoning a lengthy textbook adoption process and embrace digital content; hold digital content providers accountable for poor student performance; and allow students and parents to publicly offer feedback about content, like Amazon and eBay allow customers to do.

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