April 1, 2014
A review of the 2013 Digital Learning Now Report Card: Part 2, State-by-State Findings
An earlier post reviewed and commented on the recent Digital Learning Now 2013 report card. In this post we look more closely at some of the state grades and how they compare to our Keeping Pace research.
We are highlighting the comparisons that follow for two main reasons:
1) First, in our view, some policies are more important than others for students who are in school now. For example, a state may get credit from the DLN report card for establishing a task force to look at competency-based learning—and that is a positive development. But at best it is unlikely to impact in a material way anyone who is now older than a high school freshman, and in any case it is impossible to say whether a study will lead to a policy change. For these reasons Keeping Pace tends not to focus on studies or bills that have been introduced but not passed, and instead focuses on laws that have passed and policies that have been created.
2) Second, our research sometimes reveals a divergence between policy and on-the-ground outcomes. The most current and concerning example of this is Utah’s course choice program, which has received extensive attention as good policy, but has yet to demonstrate results for significant numbers of students.
We are not saying that the ways that our view differ from the DLN grades makes those grades wrong. We have a different lens, and both should be considered to create a better picture of each state.
With that in mind, examples where Keeping Pace research and the DLN grades diverge include:
- Giving Virginia an A for student eligibility, while giving states with well-supported state virtual schools and statewide online schools lower grades (e.g. Idaho (D+); Louisiana (F); New Hampshire (F)) doesn’t reflect on-the-ground conditions. Virginia has just instituted an online learning graduation requirement, but that shouldn’t move it far ahead of states that support supplemental online course options and statewide online schools (which Virginia does not as of school year 2013-14).
- Under student access, DLN gives Michigan a D+, and quite a few states As or Bs. A few of those states may be ahead of Michigan, but some (e.g. Delaware (B+), Rhode Island (A), Maine (B-)) are clearly not. Students have more online and blended course and school options in Michigan than they have in DE, RI, and ME—and in many of the other states that received higher grades as well. Perhaps policy doesn’t reflect this, but on-the-ground conditions certainly do.
- Some of the “Quality choices” grades are most perplexing to us because this area of study overlaps with Keeping Pace research into online school and course options most closely. There is no doubt that students have many more choices in states such as Idaho (A-) and Utah (A), than in a state such as New York (D+), which has neither. However, Wisconsin, which has a state virtual school, a large consortium serving a large percentage of the state’s students with supplemental options, and many fully online options, was given an F. We recognize that there are other criteria being used grade the states in this category, but we can’t imagine that the possibility of having, for example, “a public website that provides information and links to all digital learning opportunities” somehow outweighs the lack of those online school and course opportunities.
The DLN report card is clearly an enormous undertaking. We agree with many of the individual grades, and we don’t want to appear to be merely picking a few examples with which we disagree from among the thousands of data points that DLN is using. The outcome, however, is that the overall grades that some states receive—and that get far more attention than the categories—don’t reflect the same opportunities that the Keeping Pace research suggests. Detailing just a few:
- Alabama, Pennsylvania, California, Montana, and Wisconsin deserve better than their Fs. All except for Alabama and Montana have online schools serving a significant percentage of students statewide; Wisconsin had caps on its online schools but has lifted them. Also in Wisconsin, a large consortium, the Wisconsin eSchool Network, serves students in many of the state’s largest districts. In Pennsylvania, the large number of cyber charter schools has spurred many districts into offering extensive online and blended learning options. California has many blended charter schools, charter schools, and district programs offering some supplemental and fully online options. The online schools are subject to a geographic restriction, which is among the reasons that California doesn’t deserve an A—but neither does it deserve its failing grade. Montana and Alabama don’t have fully online schools, but their support of the supplemental Montana Digital Learning Academy and Alabama ACCESS clearly raise them above the ranks of the failing states.
- Idaho and New Hampshire deserve better than their Ds. Both have state virtual schools that are large based on the proportion of the state’s students that they serve. The New Hampshire school serves some full-time online students, and New Hampshire is also the leading state in terms of competency-based learning policy. Idaho has online charter schools that serve students statewide.
- Michigan deserves better than its C. It has online schools, blended schools, and a well-supported state virtual school, and is implementing course choice. There is no way that Michigan should receive the same grade as Maryland, which has none of those options for students.
- Florida certainly deserves its A, but it’s unclear that Utah should be in the same category as Florida—and above every other state. As mentioned above and elsewhere, the grade seems to reflect the promise of Utah’s course choice policy—but at the expense of lower-graded states that have more options students are taking advantage of now. Similarly, Virginia (B) appears to be getting a bump for policies that aren’t yet improving options for students, who have only a mid-sized state virtual school and no statewide fully online schools.
There are also many states whose grades are well aligned with the Keeping Pace research. Among these are Nevada, Georgia, South Carolina, Maine, Vermont, New York, and New Jersey. These are the states where what is happening on the ground is what would be expected from the policy framework-students are taking advantage of available options, and where options are not available, that is reflected in the DLN grading.
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