Heartland Ideas

Digital Learning

Government budget shortfalls and the proven success of digital learning are causing many states and school districts to consider using new technology to make K-12 education more efficient. Some charter schools are already using digital learning and reporting positive results:

* The Arizona charter school Carpe Diem uses a blended learning model mixing time at computer stations with the assistance of an aide or coach with time in more conventional classrooms. The school has 240 students in grades 6 through 12. Test scores have been excellent, with some students testing in the 98th percentile on the Terra Nova tests.

* Rocketship Education, a California charter school provider, has achieved $500,000 in annual savings by using computer time to reallocate resources toward a smaller number of highly effective teachers and facilitator/coaches.

Many states now allow virtual charter schools, in which students study at home and interact with teachers and coaches online. These schools have a lower per-pupil cost than conventional bricks-and-mortar schools and produce comparable or superior academic results.

Digital learning can make conventional public education more efficient and affordable. A student with a personal computer or iPad can get free access to thousands of educational videos from sources such as Khan Academy, plus free or inexpensive access to literally millions of books.

Public policies, however, impede the spread of digital education by, for example, sending tax money to bureaucracies (districts) rather than to parents, requiring minimum “seat time,” and limiting class size. These rules expand employment, not learning, and they make it difficult to reward good teachers and principals. These old ideas and the hiring of large numbers of nonteaching staff are being challenged by a new generation of education entrepreneurs and policymakers.