Developing a comprehensive digital strategy


School, district, and state leaders must make critical decisions in the next two years involving digital learning that will shape education for decades, according to a new report from the Alliance for Excellent Education. The report, The Nation’s Schools Are Stepping Up to Higher Standards, identifies four key challenges that public school district leaders must systemically address in the next two years and outlines the essential elements for developing a comprehensive digital strategy.

The report and the webinar accompanying its release are the first steps in a major effort by the Alliance to help district leaders make smart, far-reaching decisions about implementing education technology that support teachers and improve student outcomes in K–12 public schools.

“As I travel across the United States talking to district leaders from large urban city centers to the most rural areas of the country, I hear the same thing: ‘We’ve come a long way, but we have so far to go in effectively using technology to benefit student learning,’” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “If you’re a school or district leader who is considering using education technology and digital learning in your schools, STOP—and go no further—until you have a comprehensive plan that addresses your district’s specific challenges and learning goals for all students.”

The four key challenges identified in the report that all school district leaders need to face include: (1) graduating all students college and career ready; (2) managing shrinking budgets; (3) training and supporting teachers; and (4) dealing with the growing technology needs of society and individual students, especially low-income students and students of color who are most at-risk of being left behind. By employing effective educational strategies that link and improve the “three Ts”—teaching, technology, and use of time—district leaders can create the conditions for whole-school reform and effective instruction, the report finds.

According to Wise and the Alliance, many school districts have already stepped up to address these challenges by developing comprehensive plans for digital learning strategies and will serve as examples to others in the next two years, while other districts are in the process of implementing aspects of digital learning. On the other hand, far too many districts have yet to begin preparation.

“Whatever stage a district is in,” Wise said, “there is real value in taking a self assessment to make sure your district’s technology strategies meet its educational needs, including changing curriculum and instruction.”

The major force driving the need to change is the move by all states to raise academic expectations by requiring students to graduate from high school ready for college and a career. For forty-six states and the District of Columbia, adopting the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) also requires using technology to prepare students for computer-administered assessments in the 2014–15 school year.

If schools and districts adopt a comprehensive digital learning strategy, the effective application of technology assists in the implementation of the CCSS by supporting profound changes to teaching and learning. Technology also plays a critical role guiding educational, administrative, budgetary, and policy decisions by providing constant data about student and school performance to educators, parents, students, and policymakers.

The Alliance, which will be partnering with national membership organizations on this initiative, has identified a framework that will provide education leaders in states and school districts with tools to make good decisions about how technology aligns with the goals and vision for their students. This growing effort, which includes access to a team of experts, a self assessment tool, and other resources, will help districts through a comprehensive planning process around seven interconnected areas within the education system where technology and digital learning can maximize the impact on student achievement:

• academic supports;

• budget and resources;

• curriculum and instruction;

• data systems and online assessments;

• professional learning;

• technology and infrastructure; and use of time.

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