January 9, 2014

Georgia Digital Learning Task Force Recommendations

A Georgia task force formed by executive order at the end of 2012 recently released its recommendations, which, if followed, will lay the groundwork for the expansion of online and blended learning in Georgia. The recommendations in “Final Recommendations from Governor Nathan Deal’s Digital Learning Task Force” fall into three categories: infrastructure, digital content and courses, and blended and competency-based learning, as the task force seeks to “provide a comprehensive, integrated strategy for the future of digital learning in Georgia.”

The infrastructure recommendations are to “increase statewide broadband capacity to schools” to target levels, “increase districts’ ability to expand wireless connectivity and device availability within schools,’ and “increase availability of wireless connectivity in communities, allowing students to access learning resources outside of school.”

Key Blended and Competency-Based Learning recommendations include:

  1. “Provide blended and competency-based learning opportunities, so that PK-12 and postsecondary students are able to broaden, accelerate, or otherwise pace their learning appropriately and ensure mastery before progressing.”
  2. “Review and align into a single document, policy, or law all dual enrollment and competency-based options already available in Georgia, so the options are more easily understood by students and parents.”
  3. “Design a funding mechanism that provides flexibility to foster blended and competency-based learning while balancing the operational needs of districts.”
  4. “Find ways to incentivize the blended learning and competency-based courses, programs, and opportunities that expand and extend learning opportunities for students. Use the Innovation Fund, housed at the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement (GOSA), to support pilots and identify scalable models.”

Of these recommendations, the second one in the list above (which is recommendation #9 in the report) is the only one that can be implemented relatively easily. The others—providing blended learning opportunities, designing a funding mechanism, and incentivizing blended learning courses—would require significant investment and/or policy changes. These recommendations are only a basic start, and much of the real work has yet to be done.

Similarly, under “Digital Content and Courses,” the recommendation to “Remove barriers to online learning” sounds good, but it is unclear how it will be implemented.

Although the report references presentations about digital learning in Georgia and other states as part of the development of the recommendations, it would have been stronger if it closely linked an overview of the existing online and blended options in the state to the recommendations. Students in Georgia have some level of course choice via the Georgia Virtual School, and strengthening that course choice provision—with or without adding additional providers—would have been a strong recommendation. Online charter schools are serving thousands of students, but funding is far lower than in most states and lower than almost all digital learning advocates agree is sufficient to provide an education that meets state expectations. District programs in Gwinnett, Cobb, Henry, and Fulton counties are all serving students in their own districts, as well as out-of-district students to some extent. Acknowledging and building upon these existing options provides a direct path to expansion.

In addition, under the recommendation to “develop a broad-based communication strategy” is the suggestion to “Emphasize the potential for effective incorporation of digital learning to achieve and leverage cost savings.” Although this is one sub-point among a dozen recommendations, it is still of concern. In our view, while cost-savings may be achieved via digital learning, increasing student opportunities and improving student outcomes should always come before attempting to save money.

Digital Learning Now! has also reviewed the report and appears to have a supportive, although reserved, opinion that is similar to ours.



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