January 22, 2016

New York state online learning recommendations show promise

The Final Report — Findings and Recommendations of the New York State Online Learning Advisory Council includes two aspects that are promising for the future of online learning.

Both are contained in the Council’s first recommendation, which is “that the Legislature and Governor 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 is promising for two reasons.

First, the growth of online learning within traditional school districts is going to require investments of time and resources, both of which ultimately equate to dollars. (The possibility that online learning may be less expensive in some cases, and/or over time, does not change the fact that the shift to online learning by public schools will require an initial investment.) The fact that the report calls for an investment of $100 million suggests that the state’s financial condition is fairly strong, and that the possibility exists of investing in an initiative to support online learning. That’s not to say that the state will ultimately fund the initiative at that level—or at all—but in my experience similar state commissions tend to have an idea of what the budget situation is, to avoid making a recommendation that is immediately ignored because it is so far from what is politically or financially feasible.

If the fact that the report calls for investing in online learning is positive, what the Council chooses to prioritize for increased spending is even more so: it suggests spending on professional development. Essentially every experienced educator and advocate for online learning realizes that professional development for teachers and administrators is a key element of success. Yet financial requests usually start with devices, connectivity, or content; if they include professional development at all it is usually secondary. For example, earlier this week I spoke with several people working on digital learning planning in North Carolina (a topic I will return to in upcoming blog posts), and they lamented the fact that there is such a large need for professional development, but it’s far easier to ask the legislature for money for more tangible purchases. New York appears to have moved beyond that issue, and the Council has made a smart request.



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