January 27, 2016
Additional findings from New York State’s Online Learning Recommendations
An earlier blog post highlighted a key aspect of the recent New York State Online Learning Advisory Council Report that is especially promising: the recommendation to spend $100 million on professional development for teachers and administrators. The report is one of several state studies released since the publication of Keeping Pace 2015 that are worth examining in more detail.
The professional development recommendation is the first of four:
#1: “The Legislature and Governor [should] allocate $100 million to support multi-year professional development grants. These grants will support both planning and implementation to expand development of instructional skills using online tools in classrooms, and online course availability and capacity.”
This recommendation is particularly valuable because it stresses that the investments that the state is making in technology are only going to show a positive return if teachers and administrators know how to teach using online technologies. As the report makes clear, “New York has made a significant investment in hardware and connectivity through the Smart Schools Bond Act. To make the most effective use of that equipment, our educators and administrators need well-planned, high quality, job-embedded professional development.”
Teacher professional development is often not of high quality, nor job-embedded. The authors recognize that for professional development to be successful is has to be better than many of the current PD offerings.
#2: The Board of Regents, Legislature and Governor [should] grant authority to the NYS Education Commissioner to provide certain waivers of regulations to support Innovation Networks.
The second recommendation is not as strong as some others, because it does not provide enough specific examples of regulations that should be waived. Still, it discusses several important ideas. The first is addressing seat time requirements. The second is changing the statutory requirements for teachers’ performance reviews, particularly to allow measures of student learning instead of or in addition to student growth “determined solely by state assessment.” We have seen other cases in which teachers have been reluctant to test new practices because of the possibility of an impact on their performance reviews; addressing this would be beneficial.
More broadly, the Council recommends creating “Innovation Networks” that would provide flexibility to member school districts, perhaps linking waivers to providing professional development. In addition, the Council suggests that these networks would collaborate and learn from each other, which is an approach that we have seen used successfully by state virtual schools and others.
#3 The state [should] adequately staff and support NYSED’s Education Technology capacity and resources. The purpose is to bring forward innovations in online education and educational technology.
In particular, the Council suggests that the state create a new cabinet-level position of Chief Digital Officer who would be responsible for advancing educational technology programs across the state. We believe New York would then become the second state (after North Carolina) to create this position.
#4: Higher education systems [should] develop teacher pre-service experiences in online and blended learning.
With this recommendation, the Council echoes a call that we often hear; online learning advocates often complain about the lack of a focus on digital learning in colleges of education.
Notably absent from the New York report is any estimate of how many students are taking online courses, or engaged in any online learning activity, in the state. The report cites general examples of district and BOCES-led “models” using online learning and video conferencing. The lack of actual online learning usage data is common, unfortunately. Many states are developing and implementing digital learning plans without having a solid understanding about their current situation. They don’t know the baseline from which they are building, which will make evaluating success based on impact difficult.
North Carolina is an exception, in that the state has invested in planning that includes research into current conditions. Our next blog posts will explore North Carolina’s research and findings.