Technology has led to an unprecedented around-the-clock access to information and technology at our fingertips. The digital age unfolding before us daily has changed the way we live and work, and has touched every industry from banking to healthcare to entertainment. In each instance, these digitally-enabled revolutions are empowering individuals with more information, greater access to options, and more personalized experiences.
This transformation has taken place in just about every aspect of our lives, except in the way we educate our children. Students growing up in an app-based, personalized world are confronted by an education system designed in an industrial era, based on an agriculture calendar. With so many options in their personal lives and so few in the traditional classroom, it’s no wonder so many students have become disinterested and disengaged in the learning process and are dropping out in record numbers.
So, it is strikingly odd that individuals like Sam Pizzigati want to criticize new approaches and innovations to education, but remain remarkably silent regarding traditional approaches that fail our kids year after year. Pizzigati criticizes state officials for “allowing tax dollars to underwrite K-12 virtual disasters,” but he ignores the more than two million students stuck in dropout factories and that despite billions spent by the federal government, less than one percent of chronically-underperforming schools are able to turn around after five years. In contrast, the virtual schools in most states today operate on a performance-pay model; meaning that they don’t get paid unless the student completes and/or passes the course. Or, they operate under a chartering mechanism that allows them to be closed if they fail to meet performance metrics. The problem is not that we are offering too much innovation to students; it is that we’re offering too little.
And, the problem with Pizzigati’s article is that he cherry-picks a handful of cases while ignoring the broader movement.
The Florida Virtual School (FLVS) is a great example. The school, which was created under Democratic Governor Lawton Chiles in 1996 and has served approximately 159,000 students, consistently outperforms traditional schools on the state’s comprehensive assessment test. The school’s high standards and positive results have resulted in a three-year waiting list for teaching vacancies and consistently gets high marks from parents – with 97 percent of them stating the curriculum is high quality and 95 percent saying they would recommend it to other families.Virginia Beach Public School District has used a blended-learning technology that drives personalized literacy instruction which has helped students in several schools to achieve nearly two and a half years of academic growth in just one year. New models like Rocketship Education and Carpe Diem have completely reimagined what school and class look like, and are consistently ranked as top achieving schools in their states.
The attempt by Pizzigati to polarize the issue by painting digital education reform as a “right-wing ideology,” rather than the bipartisan cause it is and should be, is shameful. These efforts have been championed by Republicans and Democrats alike, including Governors Jeb Bush and Bob Wise as well as the U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. The moral imperative to better serve our students and the urgency to reform a system of education to one that prepares them for the jobs and world they will face requires us to explore new approaches and models.
John Bailey is the executive director of Digital Learning Now!