Schools Are Racing to Adopt Digital Tools Without Solid Evidence that they Boost Student Achievement

Cross Post from the Scholars Strategy Network.

At all levels from kindergarten to twelfth grade, American schools are making huge investments in digital education – with proponents often touting digital tools as a way to close achievement gaps and improve learning opportunities for economically and academically disadvantaged students. Digital instruction – using computers, netbooks, or handheld devices – is rapidly spreading in classrooms and supplemental areas of instruction. Big money is in play: One estimate values the U.S. school market for education software and digital content at nearly $8 billion. Advances in technology allow digital tools to offer the promise of broad access at low cost, competing with face-to-face methods of instruction for shrinking funds. But with schools inundated with new digital tools, little attention has been paid to whether teachers, parents, and students are putting them to effective use.

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Upcoming Event: Restoring the Promise of Higher Education

Join us on Thursday, March 5, for two public events that are part of the 2015 Cline Symposium, “Restoring the Promise of Higher Education.” The Cline Symposium is a major campus-wide event that draws an audience of nearly 200 students, faculty, and distinguished alumni from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to discuss significant issues affecting the governance and welfare of democratic societies. The Cline Symposium is made possible by a gift from Richard G. and Carole J. Cline and is one of the most visible annual events on the University of Illinois campus.  Since its inception in 1995 it has attracted a number of world-renowned speakers and some of the most distinguished alumni and friends of UIUC’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.  

This year’s focus is the current state of higher education in the United States. Earning a college diploma was once heralded as the key to upward mobility and greater economic opportunities for many Americans. But the U.S. system of higher education that used to help level the playing field now exacerbates social and political inequalities. Today, despite the fact that many more people are attempting to go to college than in the past, there are some indicators that access to a 4-year degree for lower-income individuals is no longer expanding. A series of political and public policy changes have transformed the higher education system from a vital pathway of opportunity to a major source of social stratification. The Spring 2015 Cline Symposium aims to understand why these changes have occurred, and explore ways to promote equal opportunity while maintaining high academic quality at all institutions.

This year’s symposium features two public events that are open to all interested students, faculty, and community members. We would like to invite you to attend both of them, and to pass word along to anyone else who might be interested in attending:

“On Virtual Charter Schools: Research, Legislation, Policies, and Litigation”

Last week the state of North Carolina expanded the use virtual education within the state.  The State Board of Education approved its first fulltime degree granting virtual charter schoolsTwo virtual charter school were approved; North Carolina Virtual Academy which is affiliated with K12, Inc., and North Carolina Connections Academy.  North Carolina is not new to virtual schooling; the current virtual instruction is supplementary and non-degree granting.   The expansion does not comes as a surprise considering that in April 2014, the North Carolina Assembly received a virtual charter school study to assist in making the determination whether to expand the state’s virtual charter school policy.  North Carolina is not the only state that has action related to virtual charter schools.  Over the past year, I have been following the world of virtual charter schools and there has been a great deal of activity including litigation and legislation.  Below I will provide an overview of some of the activity.