NPRI praises digital learning in testimony to Assembly Ed Committee

Today, Geoffrey Lawrence, NPRI’s deputy policy director, offered the following testimony to the Assembly Education Committee.

Mr. Chair and members of the committee, I thank you for the opportunity to address you today.  The Nevada Policy Research Institute has always encouraged the aggressive use and expansion of digital learning.

Digital learning can provide a student-centered learning environment and deliver a customized and stimulating curriculum for the students who engage in it.

Further, digital mediums grant students access to the best teachers and expertise in the world.  Particularly for students who reside in Nevada’s rural areas, who otherwise might never gain exposure to the world’s greatest teachers, digital education offers an exciting opportunity capable of preparing these students for success in a digital, 21st Century world.

At the same time, because digital mediums make innovative distance learning programs possible, they offer greater flexibility to families in which students or parents maintain unconventional schedules for work or extracurricular activities.  Further, distance learning can obviate the need for the construction of additional classroom capacity in traditional schools, thereby lowering costs to taxpayers.

Of course, digital learning doesn’t solely mean distance learning and it needn’t replace classroom teachers.  Instead, teachers in schools that have embraced digital learning have utilized the expertise of teachers across the world to supplement their own classroom lectures.  In fact, many free resources, such as the Khan Academy and iTunes University, allow teachers to build their students’ understanding of academic concepts to an extent that was previously unthinkable.

Please allow me to provide an example:

At Clintondale High School, outside of Detroit, principal Greg Green was frustrated by the chronic failure of his students.  Nearly three-fourths of his students came from low-income families and were free- or reduced-lunch eligible.  So Green came up with the idea for a pilot program: He encouraged his ninth-grade teachers to “flip” their classrooms by developing their lectures on a digital platform, often incorporating resources such as Khan Academy, and assigning these lectures as homework.  Then, during classroom hours, students were to work through the problems that would traditionally be assigned as homework.  In the “flipped” classroom, teachers were standing ready to help students with these problems whenever they struggled.

Students enoyed watching digital presentations on their laptops, tablets or smartphones.  And for those who didn’t have these resources, Green held the school’s computer lab open for longer hours.

The program was so effective that Green expanded the program school-wide for the 2011-2012 school year.  The results speak for themselves.  That year, the school’s failure rates in English plummeted from 52 percent to 19 percent.  In math, failure rates fell from 44 percent to 13 percent. In science, 41 percent to 19 percent, and in social studies, 28 percent to 9 percent.  Attendance rates also improved while disciplinary infractions declined as students began to take greater interest what they were being taught.

The “flipped” school model is one of the best demonstrations of how effective digital learning can be and offers a new model of reform for our public schools.  Thank you.

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