Examining Policy Recommendations for Online Charter Schools

When the CREDO Online Charter School Study came out in early October, we gave it an “incomplete.” Mary Gifford, Senior Vice President, Education, and Policy & External Affairs at K12 Inc. shares her reaction to the study below. Agreeing that there is a lack of transparency and information available on the performance of state-run and district-run virtual schools but arguing against the idea of screening enrollments, Gifford offers important detail behind many of the study’s claims and points to K12 Inc.’s continued dedication to transparency, advocacy and improvement to ensure every student succeed.

Mary Gifford and Jeff Kwitowski

The three- volume Online Charter School Study (October 2015) prepared by Mathematica, the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) and the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) provides the country’s most in-depth and systemic look into full-time public virtual charter schools. The report is a starting point with respect to the need for more and better analysis of student performance in virtual charter schools. For instance, the study demonstrates a high mobility rate and the unique nature of students within this sector of public schools, however the student matching process did not take into account the length of enrollment, reason for enrollment, effect of mobility, or persistence over time. With additional relevant data, the study can inform the next round of research.

The study also makes conclusions that affirm what leaders in virtual schools have known for more than a decade. It confirms that virtual charter school students are eligible for free/reduced price lunch at a higher rate than traditional students (48 percent compared to 39 percent). The study also demonstrates that students in virtual charters had lower than average test scores prior to enrolling in the virtual school. In fact, one-third fewer virtual charter students are in the top-scoring decile than traditional students and there are 40 percent more virtual charter students in the bottom decile.

Decades of research show the effects of income on student performance, and there is an emerging body of research showing prior state assessment performance is a strong predictor of future performance. While these conclusions are sobering for those of us who got into education to positively impact student performance, they demonstrate that students are disproportionately academically at-risk prior to enrolling in virtual charter schools.  In fact, academic struggles are one of the main reasons why parents choose to transfer their children to these schools.

The policy volume of the study, written by CRPE, offers several recommendations that are somewhat disconnected from the other volumes of the report. For instance, the CREDO volume on student performance concludes that “network” virtual charter schools managed mostly by private “for-profit” providers do not perform worse, on average, than non-network schools, yet the recommendation is to further regulate these providers, absent evidence related to student outcomes.

Perhaps the biggest disconnect between the volumes of the study is on student engagement. The Mathematica volume discusses in great detail the importance and challenges of student engagement in the virtual charter school model. This is not news to teachers or leaders within these schools who have been developing instructional strategies, technological tools, and support structures to improve student engagement. We had hoped the volume would include constructive policy recommendations in this area. Instead, it proposes a more crude approach:  screening enrollments to ensure students are the right “fit” before allowing them access to public virtual charter schools.

A fundamental principle for public schools — especially for public schools of choice — is equal access and opportunity for all students. Virtual charter schools are public schools. They offer families access to a full public education option regardless of their geographic location. They bring the school to the student wherever she lives, meaning that for millions of families across the country, virtual schools represent the only public school option available. Take that away – or restrict equal access through some type of selection process – and virtual schools no longer become public schools. Further, it is hard to fathom what type of admissions criteria could both safeguard equal access and parent choice, while also “filtering out” students who are somehow pre-determined not to succeed. This would inevitably lead to the most difficult-to-educate students never having the chance to try virtual schools, even though they may have the potential to succeed. And they can succeed.  We’ve seen thousands of students deemed “at-risk” thrive and graduate from virtual charter schools.

The focus must be on student engagement. Rather than denying equal access and opportunity to students on the front end, policies should be designed to enable online and blended schools to move students out who are unable or unwilling to engage in their individualized learning program.  Currently, public virtual schools are forced to use traditional, often arcane, attendance and truancy regulations to remove students, which rely on traditional “seat time” attendance measures instead of engagement.

While CRPE calls attention to a provision in the Arizona law that relates to student performance while enrolled in the virtual school, there is no recommendation to leverage this type of policy to include engagement. States should consider expanding the Arizona policy to include student engagement. A follow-up study examining the impact of engagement on performance for all types of students in virtual schools would be informative. While virtual charter schools are not the right fit for all, experience has shown us that any student, regardless of her circumstances, who engages in the online learning model can succeed.

Another disconnect is the recommendation to move public virtual schools out of the charter school sector entirely. Advocates have touted the increased transparency within charter schools since 1995.  These public schools are required to comply with all state reporting requirements while serving students entirely based on choice. Charter schools do not serve students zoned in by zip code. Charters must be open to all students, and parents have the freedom to make choices based on school-level information. There is no greater form of transparency in public education than within the charter sector.

On the other hand, there is a lack of transparency and information available on the performance of state-run and district-run virtual schools. In fact, several reports, including Keeping Pace with K-12 Digital Learning, have pointed out that it is difficult to get visibility into the true number of students enrolled in these school programs or their academic performance due to lax reporting requirements. Would anyone expect greater transparency for full-time public virtual schools by placing them within these structures?

A final point from the policy section at odds with the historical record is the description that education service providers have supported poor regulations, while simultaneously pointing out strong laws that were the recommendations made by these same providers.  The states CRPE cites as having good laws — Arizona, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina and Oklahoma — have benefitted from the input provided by education service providers such as K12 Inc. In fact, traditional critics of charters and school choice have criticized the role that educators and practitioners from digital education service providers played in advocating for these policies.  Across many states, K12 has worked with policymakers to inform the process to ensure responsible, effective, and transparent policies are enacted. In every state cited by CRPE as a model, K12 has supported the specific policy provisions that are deemed worthy of replication.

K12 continues to advocate for improved policies in digital learning. For example, K12 has proposed better and more reliable student-centered accountability frameworks for schools that experience higher rates of mobility through school choice.  Here are a few:

Reform Graduation Rates. Rather than 4-year cohort, create a value added approach to graduation rate by measuring student progress toward graduation requirements for the actual time the student is enrolled in a public school.

Full Academic year. The longer a student is enrolled in a school, the more the school should be held accountable for his or her performance. State accountability frameworks should therefore be weighted to measure student proficiency and growth based on number of full academic years students are enrolled in a school.

  • Less than 1 full year = 0
  • Two full years  = 1.0
  • Three full years = 2.0
  • Four or more full years = 3.0

Student Growth. Annual individual student academic growth measurements should carry more weight within a state’s accountability framework than static proficiency scores. Growth models should also be sufficiently sensitive to growth on the high and low ends of the spectrum.

Measure Student Engagement. No student should be denied equal access and opportunity to public schools of choice.  However, states can develop a definition of engagement for students enrolled in alternative public schools of choice (including online and blended schools).  Students who do not demonstrate sufficient and ongoing engagement may be dis-enrolled.

On funding, K12 has long advocated for models that fund schools based on students enrolled on a real-time or current-year basis. Schools should not receive funding for students they are no longer educating. Funding models based on single student count dates, predominately advocated by traditional school systems, are incompatible in states where school choice is valued and multiple education options exist. Funding should follow the child to their school of choice at any point during the year.

It is our hope the Online Charter School Study is the first of many analyses of public virtual charter schools. This report points out the need for additional studies based on the unique nature of these schools’ students and the quickly evolving online learning instructional model. K12 will continue to be transparent, share data, and seek opportunities to collaborate on research and policy. Our goal is to constantly improve, raise outcomes, and help every student succeed.

Mary Gifford is Senior Vice President of Education Policy and External Affairs at K12 Inc. Jeff Kwitowski is Senior Vice President of Public Affairs and Policy Communications. 

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Course Access: Reimagining What’s Possible for Education

What if a student’s access to high-quality learning was no longer bound by geography, onsite resources, school size or the availability of books and teachers? Fortunately this is increasingly possible thanks to a set of enabling policies and practices that allow students to enhance and expand their supplementary education options.

Course Access is a state level policy that expands the model of educational delivery, allowing students to complement their traditional classroom experience by accessing courses not available in their own school. This includes partnerships with trade schools and college courses as well as online courses.

These extended options enable a collaborative effort of deeper learning for students that better prepares them for college and/or career without having to pay tuition or delay entering the workforce. Course Access can give students early opportunities to jump start their career exploration and change the trajectory of their lives.

It can also help school districts to innovate when solving unique challenges, whether it be offering hard-to-staff courses, serving students with medical challenges or offering credit recovery options.

This video from ExcelinEd explains what Course Access is and shares the real life stories of several students who found success by choosing this learning option:

Course Access Blog

The future of education is here. Join the movement to harness the power of what is possible in our nation’s education system.

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No Preschool Is Perfect: How to Find the Almost-Perfect Situation That’s Right for Your Family

Suzanne Podhurst

How much milk did she drink today? Did he take a nap? Did the kids play outside?

Preschool parents crave information. And many send their toddlers to preschools that issue reports detailing the minutiae of the day, from number of diaper changes to stickers earned for sharing. Of those lucky enough to receive reports, however, many find them wanting more. One parent who gets a daily report complained recently that it lists her son’s nap duration as exactly 1.5 hours every single day. In other words: It’s probably not true. What’s more, a great many preschools don’t issue daily reports at all. Some families send their children to preschools whose staff treat the goings-on of the day as (gasp!) trivialities. These preschools may take great care of the children, if less-great care of their information-seeking parents.

This is all to say: In the preschool search, sometimes what you think you want isn’t what you get, and sometimes what you think you need turns out not to be that important. The specific thing-that-you-wish-were-different-but-you-can-live-with-anyway varies for every parent. Some are willing to forego the daily reports. Others are willing to reconfigure their work schedules to send their children to preschools with limited hours.

You may not need daily reports. If you have a high level of trust in your provider (something you’d probably want anyway), and if your child comes home cared-for and happy, you may be able to forego reports. Then again, if your child has a medical condition or requires special care, or if you would be more comfortable with detailed information each day, then you’ll need a preschool that issues these.

The people are usually more important than the philosophy. Different preschools often have different philosophies: There are Montessori, Reggio Emilia, and Waldorf schools, to name just a few. You’ll want to ensure that a preschool’s teaching philosophy matches your child’s temperament and interests. But more important than the what and how is the who: The people with whom your child spends each day should care for and have a rapport with your little one. Just because you align philosophically doesn’t necessarily mean that your family will be a perfect fit for a preschool (and vice versa).

The director may have very little interaction with your child. The preschool director — or whoever gives you the initial tour — may (or may not) have much interaction with your child. It is important to ask who will be caring for your little one most of the time — and to meet that person. Your impression of the person giving the tour (for better or for worse) may have little bearing on what your child’s day-to-day experience will be like.

Other kids will have lots of interaction with your child. Consider whether a preschool offers mixed-age classes or single-age groupings — and whether a single teacher will stay with the same class throughout preschool. These organizational arrangements are likely to have a significant impact on your child’s day-to-day experiences. Consider how each preschool’s classroom divisions — for instance, whether kids move from room to room, and how and with whom they establish relationships — fit with your child’s personality.

Not all violations are (necessarily) deal-breakers. During the preschool search, many parents consult violations histories, which may vary dramatically, from nonexistent to severe. Some note floors and walls “covered in a toxic finish,” a caretaker “involved in an act detrimental to health and safety,” or a facility “in disrepair.” Others, by contrast, describe less imminently-dangerous infractions — a failure to comply with “required signage,” a failure to “conduct and document monthly fire drills,” or a diaper-changing area not “adjacent to a hand wash sink.” For some parents, a relatively minor violation may be OK, while for others, it may potentially signify other hazards. Parents should be able to decide for themselves what is — and is not — acceptable.

Schedules and closing policies typically have a high impact on working families. While many preschools make annual calendars readily available, they don’t always announce their closing policies. For working families, snow days and other unexpected closings — not to mention late pick-up policies — can present serious logistical challenges. It’s good to know how closings are decided and communicated, and how lateness is treated, before you enroll.

Some preschools only just meet the required student-teacher ratios. This is fine when all of the teachers are present — but it may become a problem when there is an instructor absent due to illness, vacation, or other plans. Parents should be able to assess their comfort levels with substitute providers or potentially short-staffed facilities.

Medical record-keeping policies vary. While preschools are typically required to maintain immunization records for all children, not all facilities are judicious about this practice; and not all inspectors notice. It is not unheard of for a preschool to ask a noncompliant child to stay home when an inspection is scheduled. Don’t presume that because medical records are required, they are always provided — ask!

Other families’ experiences are important — but may not be the same as yours. It’s crucial to talk to other families whose children attend the preschools you’re considering. Ask what they wished they’d known before starting, whether they’re happy, what they like and dislike, and whether they’d make the same choice again. And then make the choice that’s best for your family.

No preschool is perfect. But if you can find a situation where your child is happy — and where you are happy — then you can rest assured that your imperfect situation is perfect enough for your family.

Looking for a preschool near you? Check out the Noodle preschool search tool. Curious about how preschool works where you live? Read a three-minute guide to preschool in your state.


This blog is part of our Smart Parents series. For more information and to buy the book, see Smart Parents: Parenting for Powerful Learning.

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Suzanne Podhurst is Editor-in-Chief at Noodle. Follow on Twitter @NoodleEducation.

Modernizing Educator and Leader Development for Student-Centered Learning

States have the opportunity to transform education as we know it. The 2015 iNACOL State Policy Frameworks presents frameworks for sustainable, systemic change that will dramatically increase personalized learning for students. In this blog that first ran on iNACOL.org, Dale Frost shares one of five frameworks that was released at the iNACOL Blended and Online Learning Symposium.

Dale Frost

States can catalyze educational innovation by building educator and leader capacity to create student-centered, personalized learning models.

Personalized, competency-based learning environments will require educators and school leaders to take on new roles and develop new skills. Unfortunately, the current systems of pre-service preparation, licensure, and professional development do not lay an adequate foundation for next generation learning models. States can accelerate innovation by modernizing educator and leader development. In order to do so, states need to revise laws and regulations that were created for an outdated, one-size-fits-all model of K-12.

Time- and subject-based teacher licensure, and “teacher of record” requirements create barriers for schools seeking to offer interdisciplinary, competency-based pathways, to use non-traditional personnel in instruction, such as community leaders and career professionals, or to better serve students who are ahead or behind academically.

To build capacity in the field,educators, administrators, and teacher leaders need ongoing, job-embedded professional development. This will support the transition to new models of learning, to create competency-based learning systems and leveraging blended and online learning to personalize instruction. It is critical to support teachers and leaders to develop skills for planning, managing, and leading evolving system requirements in new personalized, digital learning environments.

State policy recommendations

  • Support modernization of pre-service and in-service professional development for educators and leaders to implement personalized, competency-based, blended, and online learning environments.
  • Create a pipeline of school and district leaders to catalyze the transformation of K-12 education systems to student-centered learning.
  • Provide true teacher licensure reciprocity for online teaching.

What recommendations would you provide state policymakers? Please comment or Tweet us, @nacol.

This is the fourth of five state policy frameworks to transform K-12 public education. Taken as a whole, they present a framework for sustainable, systemic change that will dramatically increase personalized learning opportunities for all students. The complete updated iNACOL State Policy Frameworks will be released next week at the iNACOL Blended and Online Learning Symposium.

For more information, check out:

Dale Frost is the State Policy Director at iNACOL. Follow iNACOL on Twitter, @nacol

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Student Voices of Nexus Academy of Lansing

Nexus Lansing is part of a midwest network of flex academies supported by Connections Learning. Students work at their own pace with access to teachers, a success coach, college counselor, and personal trainer. It’s definitely a school that’s worth a visit next time you’re in Lansing.

Lindsay Penny, English Teacher at Nexus Academy of Lansing, recently described that their blended model “works for GenDIY learners who are looking to take control of his/her education. Students take ownership over their learning, work at their own pace, and discover their passions.” So, Lindsay asked to her students to share what about the Nexus model works for them. Here’s what they had to say:

Adelaide Cox

After an illness, and a challenging transition from homeschooling to public school, moving from Traverse City to Lansing, and a semester off, Adelaide discovered an alternative.

Nexus allows me to learn at my own pace with the motivation to want you to finish high school. My first year at Nexus I came in as a freshman; it was supposed to be my sophomore year. As I started to work on classes I realized I was able to move faster in my school work, and that I could catch up on credits that I was missing. I finished the year with all but one sophomore credit that I took over the summer.

Culinary Arts has always been a dream of mine, and when I heard about opportunities the Capital Area Career Center offered I decided that I would get in contact with the career center to see what I could do to get myself enrolled to their Culinary Program. I was the first student for Nexus Academy of Lansing to be enrolled.

Even though this isn’t the path that most students would have chosen, I have been able to make a name for myself at the Career Center and Nexus. I wouldn’t trade this opportunity for the world.  

Elida Beeman

Elida Beeman in enroute to the 2020 Olympics for BMX and because training requires traveling, a traditional brick and mortar school didn’t work her.


Image via blog.defeet.com

With this type of learning it helps me prepare for the near future, become self motivated, and learn how to pace myself. Since schools have been moving into newer technology I believe I am a step ahead for what is to come, considering I will probably be taking an online class in college. I am excited for what the future holds, and what challenges I will be given. I am willing to work hard to get to where I need to be. None of this would be possible without my parents, and the opportunities I have been given at Nexus Academy.

Xavier Ates

Xavier left his traditional high school setting after as he says he “allowed the actions and thoughts of others to impact my grades. I let the isolation get to me and change the perspective that I have for myself.” Before his sophomore year he enrolled at Nexus Lansing.

Nexus Academy has changed so much for me. I have high hopes for my future, and I am fighting my hardest to become successful. At 17 years old, I have completed my first novel and I am working on publication. My self-esteem has changed, and I feel that Nexus Academy has changed my views of myself, my life, and the way that I view things.

I have realized that a traditional school is not for everyone; I consider myself living proof of that you can succeed in school, as well as life, outside of a traditional school environment.

Erika Valencia

Erika has gone from public to private, private to public, public to charter, and charter back to public before arriving at Nexus Lansing. In her traditional school experience, she was penalized for working ahead. Not at Nexus.

Here, you were congratulated for doing so, and getting as much done as possible while still keeping up desired grades, was the norm.

As I moved into my final year of high school, I was faced with the option to graduate early or choose dual enrollment at a local community college. I have decided to pursue the option of dual-enrollment next year, while still attending Nexus Academy of Lansing. Being here, I now feel like I’ve found a true fit for myself. In addition, I feel prepared for the future, whatever it may throw at me. High school isn’t a one size fits all. All it takes is a little determination and anyone can take control over their own education.

The common thread between students is that each were empowered to learn because of Nexus’ flexible student-centered model. Coupled with a healthy learning environment with support from educators and advisors, and access to high quality content, Nexus Lansing is an example of a school that is empowering students to pave their own unique path.

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Moving From ‘Gotcha’ to ‘Growth’: Using Video in the Classroom for Effective Teacher Feedback

Vanessa Belair

The current climate of standardized testing and accountability has left many teachers feeling unsupported and undervalued. The transition to Common Core State Standards and focus on educator effectiveness calls for new instructional skills and knowledge that educators often aren’t given the time and resources to develop effectively. They feel stuck in a “gotcha” environment in which they are unfairly judged for any shortfalls.

To keep up with the pace of change, professional learning and resources must also evolve to address individual abilities and interests and help educators meet their goals. New video technology provides opportunities never before possible for teachers to receive the personalized, objective feedback they need to grow.

Video-based teacher observation, evaluation and coaching can enable continuous improvement when implemented effectively. As opposed to a tool to catch teachers doing something wrong, video can provide a beneficial visual of instructional and classroom management practices, foster an open dialogue between observers and teachers, and help teachers accept and grow from feedback.

As Principal of Delta Elementary Charter School, I am enthusiastic about the potential of video to enhance observations and support teachers. As we work to plan and transition to video, our staff has embraced the idea of the technology and teachers are eager to use it as a tool for professional growth.

Located in a small rural community of northern California, Delta has faced stagnant student achievement among certain student populations. As a result, our school leadership and school board prior to the 2014-15 school year examined ways to inspire teachers to propel learning forward for all students. We determined a significant step in achieving that goal was to individualize teacher professional learning and implement a rigorous growth-centered teacher observation and evaluation process. Incorporating video as a key component of the process can enable us to foster fair and productive teacher feedback, greater self-reflection, and a more collaborative environment than would otherwise be possible.

Key Benefits

Through our initial research on video to support growth-centered teacher observation and evaluation, we’ve seen the value it offers and are eager to realize its full benefits in our school.

Research from Harvard University’s Best Foot Forward Project indicates video offers the ability for educators and administrators to build a supportive, productive relationship in which feedback is objective, helpful and readily accepted. Video also prompts teachers to be more self-reflective when they are able to see their practices and identify areas for improvement. Similar to the study participants, once our school began using video, our staff showed greater support for its use in observations by the end of the year as the benefits were clearly noticeable, and teachers quickly overcame any hesitation they had.

Establishing a Framework

Before we could observe and evaluate educators via video, we needed to define the actions effective teachers take to engage their students. Given that the Common Core establishes new standards for students that essentially require them to learn and think differently, we also needed to set new benchmarks for teachers to address the necessary instructional shifts. To build a shared understanding of what that teaching looks like, we used the Insight Core Framework, which consists of five core instructional practices and 14 indicators that describe what teachers can do to help students master the Standards and develop skills and habits of mind needed for success beyond graduation.

Core Practice 1: Know the discipline well

Core Practice 2: Prioritize evidence over opinion

Core Practice 3: Grow and improve students’ knowledge base

Core Practice 4: Assess progress toward mastery

Core Practice 5: Promote intellectual risk taking and persistence

Because instructional frameworks are the centerpiece of successful teacher effectiveness initiatives, we worked closely with the Insight Education Group team to design and implement a comprehensive teacher evaluation system. Together, we determined what would comprise the overall evaluation system, such as a schedule of observations, student growth data and student perception surveys.

Building the Runway

Instead of trying to implement the new evaluation system and video all at once and risk overwhelming teachers, I made the decision to take implementation slowly, one step at a time over two years. During a summer professional development program, teachers were introduced and able to react to the new instructional framework, evaluation system, and video approach. Every teacher established personal learning goals associated with each Core Practice prior to the start of the school year, enabling them to take ownership over their professional development.

We used the first half of the school year to work out any challenges that arose and conduct observations in a low-stakes environment in which scores were not used for formal evaluation. The second half of the school year we focused on formal observations and evaluations.

The trial run gave teachers the time to gain a better understanding of the expectations for each Core Practice and discover how the system fostered meaningful, objective feedback.

Putting it Into Practice

We also started using Insight’s ADVANCEfeedback to easily share growth-centered observations and feedback. The platform also supports classroom video and robust reporting options. It will also enable us to send videos to instructional coaches to provide additional content-specific support to teachers.

Teachers received myriad professional development sessions, peer coaching, and models of effective teaching based on the goals around their Core Practices and the feedback shared through ADVANCEfeedback. I conducted weekly observations and provided concise, though meaningful feedback that teachers could immediately incorporate into their classrooms and keep them on the path toward mastery of key competencies.

Moving forward in year two of our implementation process, video will provide a fuller and clearer picture of teaching practices and classroom dynamics so that observers and coaches can provide specific recommendations for improvement. Because video creates a concrete, reliable, and accurate piece of evidence, the subjective nature – and therefore apprehension – around teacher observation is stripped away and the focus can be on growth, not the “gotcha” feeling.

Used in conjunction with the Insight Core Framework, Delta’s video-based teacher observation and evaluation system will inject consistency, objectivity and transparency into the process, bolstering accountability measures to ensure our students excel.  By taking the time to strategically and purposefully implement the system, we have been able to codify best practices for new and existing teachers to help them make informed instructional decisions in their classrooms.

“My favorite component of the report was the student feedback section. I appreciated how it broke down the information into specific strands and corresponding scores. This gave me the ability to reflect on how to meet the social-emotional needs of my students as much as their academic needs.”  – Laura Andrews, 4th Grade Teacher

While this potential is exciting, I encourage all school leaders considering implementing video technology to scale slowly. If it’s done right, the transition should take time and ensure teachers are comfortable at each step. Select a small group of willing teacher leaders to be advocates and pilot video to help others see the benefits in practice. Talk to teachers to ensure they are making connections to their own instructional strategies and growing professionally. Look at the data to identify needs and monitor progress toward goals. And most importantly, be present throughout the process. Lead with persistence and confidence that video observations will propel your staff – and students – farther.

For more, check out:

Vanessa Belair is principal of Delta Elementary Charter School in Clarksburg, CA.

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Four Ways States Can Promote Quality in Blended and Online Learning

States have the opportunity to transform education as we know it. The 2015 iNACOL State Policy Frameworks presents frameworks for sustainable, systemic change that will dramatically increase personalized learning for students. In this blog that first ran on iNACOL.org, Dale Frost shares one of five frameworks that was released at the iNACOL Blended and Online Learning Symposium.

Dale Frost

With the growth of new learning models comes the need to improve quality assurance systems across K–12 to ensure that only high-quality, proven providers serve students. It is important to promote innovation while focusing on quality assurance by analyzing both the relationship between inputs of quality, such as reviewing courses and curricula for alignment with state standards, and the impact of programs on multiple outcome measures of student learning.

iNACOL has led the field in identifying quality standards for provider eligibility and appropriate outcomes-based performance metrics for transparency and accountability. One of the key challenges for the entire field of K–12 in any delivery mode–traditional, blended or online learning–is the lack of independent, valid assessments spanning the entire K–12 curriculum. Outside of new assessments aligned with state standards required for accountability, there are many untested subjects, grade levels and courses offered by online learning providers. Until appropriate independent, validated, third-party assessments are developed and adopted, true quality assurance will present a challenge.

States should demand that all providers report the data they use to evaluate program outcomes and student success. Given that blended and online learning modalities have unprecedented capabilities to collect data on teaching and learning, states should require transparent reporting on outcomes-based performance metrics.

States and authorizers should consider requiring each provider to have an approved quality assurance method to report on student learning outcomes. This includes asking for entry proficiency level benchmarking and student learning growth on statewide valid metrics, at a minimum.

Additionally, states and authorizers should require full-time online learning providers to report data on closing the achievement gap, success along learning progressions towards mastery of college and career ready competencies, and fidelity to student learning goals. States and authorizers requiring programs to transparently collect these metrics would assist the field in determining program quality based on multiple measures of data and in evaluating the inputs with relation to student learning outcomes.

State policy recommendations

What recommendations would you provide state policymakers? Please comment or Tweet us, @nacol.

This is the third of five state policy frameworks to transform K-12 public education. Taken as a whole, they present a framework for sustainable, systemic change that will dramatically increase personalized learning opportunities for all students. The complete updated iNACOL State Policy Frameworks was released next week at the iNACOL Blended and Online Learning Symposium.

For more information, check out:

Dale Frost is the State Policy Director at iNACOL. Follow iNACOL on Twitter, @nacol

Stay in-the-know with all things EdTech and innovations in learning by signing up to receive the weekly Smart Update. This post includes mentions of a Getting Smart partner. For a full list of partners, affiliate organizations and all other disclosures please see our Partner page.

10 Kid-Tested, Smart Parent-Approved Toys & Games

‘Tis the season for giving, and my gift to the Internet this year is a list of toys that will add some Smart Parents cred to your holiday shopping list. Here are 10 toys and games that captured my kids’ imaginations (ages 8 and 4), held their interest over time and even taught them a thing or two. Enjoy!

Code Master from ThinkFun.  There are loads of resources now for learning how to code. (Don’t miss Hour Of Code coming up next month!) What makes this resource different is it’s a board game. No computer necessary. The individual game moves kids through 60 levels that require programming logic to succeed.

Kano Raspberry Pi. It’s really, really cool to build your computer – especially when you’re eight! I’ll never forget my daughter’s reaction when she got everything hooked up an “Hello” appeared on the screen. This is a great present if you’re looking for something that family members can all contribute to together or a nice incentive for saving long term. See another Kano Kid in action in this video.

Collaborative Board Games. Friday Family Game Night is always a hit. We’ve learned that it’s great to balance the standard competitive, knock-out-the others-so-you-can-race-to-the-finish board games with collaborative games that allow all the participants to work together toward a shared goal.  Some of our favorites are: Richard Scarry’s Busytown Eye Found It, eeBoo Obstacle game and Forbidden Island.

Inside Out DVD. Our team was blown away by this movie when it was on the big screen, and it continues to be a family favorite now that it’s available to watch at home. (See Smart Parent Tip: See Inside Out and 12 Ways to Use Inside Out to Teach SEL, STEM and Life’s Ups and Downs for more.)

K’Nex. One afternoon after school, our girls decided they wanted to make an amusement park. Inspired by this roller coaster set that they received as a gift last Christmas, they decided to use the tools they had to engineer their own version of the legendary teacups ride at DisneyWorld. I was shocked at what they created together. Here’s the little video interview I shot on my phone after they unveiled their work. 


GoldieBlox. When I backed the original Kickstarter campaign as a new mom eager for STEM toys that went beyond traditional gender stereotypes in 2012, I had no idea GoldieBlox would grow to become that national sensation that it has. There are now several sets available both online and at toy stores and big box retailers that engage kids (and not just girls) around inventing, engineering and story-telling. My kids’ favorites are the Zipline Set and Movie Machine.


WorryWoos. I was introduced to these furry little friends and their beautiful Social Emotional Learning books a couple of years ago. We recently had the opportunity to add the newest Worrywoo Zelly (the monster of Envy) to our collection. It’s the perfect addition to any family library – especially this time of year when kids can go overboard wanting it “all!”

Extreme Dot to Dots. Warning: May result in long time-periods of quiet children. These “Extreme Dot to Dot” books available at many bookstores and online challenge kids to connect numbers in sequence (1-1400) to create really intricate and complex pictures. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself waiting for a turn to tackle a page.


Play-Doh. Yep. Good old fashioned Play-Doh. If your kids are anything like mine, they have a strange and confusing fascination with watching other kids open “surprise eggs” on YouTube – some of these videos have hundreds of millions of views. All it took was some Play-Doh and some old plastic Easter eggs from the basement and we transformed the passive activity of watching kids on YouTube into the engaging activity of creating their own video. They spent hours creating a set, practicing their parts and creating their video for family and friends (which you can see here). Play-Doh has also been the center of lots of other activities around here – including making new clothes for dolls (that can then be squished up and made anew), creating solar system models and making food for endless stuffed animal parties.

Snap Circuits. The cool thing about Snap Circuits is there are loads of different sets so you can start small and add-on or begin with a full set. With support, even our four-year old could create cool projects. The flying disk was her favorite. Kids can even submit their own custom circuits to share with the online community.

What about your home? What are some of your favorite smart-parent approved toys? Add to our list in the comments below our using #SmartParents on social media.

This blog is part of our Smart Parents blog series and book, Smart Parents: Parenting for Powerful Learning in partnership with The Nellie Mae Education Foundation. For more information including where you can purchase the  print or ebook for parents on your holiday shopping list, please see our Smart Parents: Parenting for Powerful Learning page. See also: 

Strategies for Engaging Global Learners

Yumi Kuwana & Dana Teppert

By now you have likely heard the clarion call of global education advocates. The current educational systems are not capable of addressing the new realities of the 21st century. We need to prepare students to live and work in an increasingly interdependent world marked by interactions with diverse cultures, rapid change, and complex global challenges for which easy answers do not exist.

So far, so good. Where the voices begin to diverge is in regards to the strategies needed for engaging students as global learners, defined as those who are willing and able to navigate a highly interdependent and culturally pluralistic world. Academics, secondary schools, universities, think tanks, non-profit organizations, and governments have adopted different solutions. For many practitioners, the fragmented nature of the field leaves a great deal of doubt as to how best to proceed in empowering students as global learners.  

At Global Citizens Initiative, we work with exceptional high school students from around the world, including Brazil, China, Ethiopia, India, Japan, Rwanda, Somalia, Spain, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In addition, we collaborate with a number of leading NPOS and universities in global education. From our unique vantage point in the field, we have reflected on developments in global education and developed a list of strategies for practitioners trying to engage students as global learners.

1. Go Beyond the Standard Topics Taught in Schools

Empower students with the skills and attitudes required to succeed in the 21st century. Promote tolerance, peace, and respect for diversity. Education systems need to go beyond the standard topics taught in schools.  In our program, GCI employs the 5 Cs of communication, collaboration, creativity/innovation, and critical thinking/problem solving skills, and character.

At Harvard Graduate School of Education, The GoodWork™ Project (part of Project Zero) is a large scale effort pioneered by Professor Howard Gardner, father of the revolutionary theory of multiple intelligences, to identify individuals and institutions that exemplify good work. The GoodWork™ Project defines good work as “work that is excellent in quality, socially responsible, and meaningful to its practitioners – and to determine how best to increase the incidence of good work in our society.” Their research on embedding the concepts of excellence, ethics, and engagement in schools offers a possible roadmap for helping students to adopt necessary attitudes and behaviors to become curious, tolerant, and moral global learners.

2. Engage Learners in Solving Real-World Problems

Students become more engaged when applying theories learned in class to solving real-world challenges. At the Global Citizens Youth Summit (GCYS), we guide 24 high school students through the process of launching their own social impact venture called a Glocal Service Project. GCI emphasizes a “Think Global, Act Local” approach to social impact work. Our students address global challenges –  like access to clean water or affordable education – that they can implement in their home communities over a nine-month period following the Summit, supported by professional business mentors.

Another organization with a 30 year history in the field is Ashoka Youth Venture, which offers an experiential process for guiding young people towards launching a social venture called the Dream It Do It Challenge. Students examine local, societal and global issues; share ideas and personal experiences; and refine social venture business plans and engage in teamwork, public speaking, and peer support. Each team selects an Adult Ally, who provides mentoring and support to the team as needed.

At the high education level, the innovative online university Minerva, where students live in multiple countries during a four-year undergraduate experience, has embedded the science of learning into its highly interactive curriculum. Students “actively participate in learning the capabilities needed to analyze, comprehend, and collaboratively solve complex challenges. Based on decades of research in cognitive and behavioral science, all classes are small, face-to-face seminars built to stimulate deep mental processing and active engagement with the course material.” One freshman student from Rwanda, an alumnus of GCYS, spoke excitedly about a seminar in which her professor encouraged students to apply complex systems theory to understanding mob behavior.

3. Nothing Can Replace Experience

Encourage students to take advantage of opportunities to collaborate with people from other cultures.  Fostering global relationships should be the responsibility of every school. Through Global Citizen Year, high school graduates take a year off before the starting their freshman year at university to live and work in developing countries; for example, Brazil, Ecuador, India and Senegal. Students live with a host family, gain local language proficiency, and work alongside members of their community on projects like environmental conservation, education, public health, agriculture, or social enterprise.

Financial limitations will, of course, limit the opportunities for students to travel to other countries. Promoting experiential learning may also involve helping local community members with whom students normally does not have contact like disadvantaged youth or the elderly, an important aspect of the Global Service Projects at GCYS.  

4. Foster the Next Generation of Global Leaders

The Brookings Institute has noted “the vast majority of the world’s talent will come from the developing world” due to shifting demographics in working age populations. In a report, they add that “between 2010 and 2020, the working age populations of India and Brazil will increase by 17 percent and 11 percent, respectively. In Western Europe and in Japan, where the populations are aging by comparison, the working age populations will start to shrink.” Of course, all students, regardless of their race, religion, and nationality must be empowered as future leaders. However, practitioners should keep in mind the global talent pool increasingly resides in developing countries, populations which have historically not received enough recognition for their talent’s leadership potential. Engaging global learners means actively including students from developing countries.   

One NPO addressing this area is The Global Education and Leadership Foundation (tGELF) in India, which nurtures young ethical leaders that will be future agents of change. tGELF has a unique value-based curriculum, teacher training and assessments. The Foundation currently connects with 1,000,000 students through 7000 master trainers across 1100 schools & NGOs in 13 countries.

The field of global education will continue to evolve rapidly. Experiments in various parts of the world will add to the body of knowledge to which practitioners have access. However, thinking strategically about engaging global learners will continue to be a necessity for success. All students must have the opportunity, attitudes, and skills to promote a better world and future for us all.

For more check out:

Yumi Kuwana is the President and Founder of Global Citizens Initiative.
Dana Teppert is the Director of Program and Operations.

Follow GCI on Twitter at @GOGCI. For more information, go to globalci.org.

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Innovations Creating a #SmartPlanet

At two recent regional EdTech conferences (#NYSCATE15 & #GAETC15) I’ve had the good fortune to discuss world changing innovations with hundreds of forward-leading tech-savvy teachers. What I asked them what innovations would boost global learning, here’s a few of the responses.


Cheaper devices




Cloud Computing

Real World Problem Solving




Collaborative Learning

Interest-based & Project-based Learning






Anywhere Anytime Learning

  Breaking Barriers, Promoting Diversity

Innovative learning: Playlists + PBL + Maker







Adaptive & Competency-based Learning

Invest in Teachers

More OER



New tech: AR, VR

Add Some Art



Effective governance

Why This Matters

What would you add to the list?  What’s making a difference for populations that haven’t had good access to learning opportunities?

For more see our initial list of 20 Inventions Boosting Global IQ. If you have a #SmartPlanet story send a note to [email protected].  

For more see:

Stay in-the-know with all things EdTech and innovations in learning by signing up to receive the weekly Smart Update. This post includes mentions of a Getting Smart partner. For a full list of partners, affiliate organizations and all other disclosures please see our Partner page.