As states, schools, and districts work to develop more flexible learning models in the wake of COVID-19, C4RI’s research team examines state-level digital learning grant programs for equity and impact.
Sinking Spring, Pennsylvania – Nationwide
The use of digital learning has increased in K-12 education settings across the nation, but many schools and students are struggling to realize the transformative potential of technology at a scale that reaches all learners. Across the country, high-quality, effective personalized learning programs and innovative school models are using digital learning to dramatically change the teaching and learning process to better meet student needs. However, this shift remains the exception rather than the norm; the transformational promise of digital learning is far from realized in the vast majority of US classrooms, schools, and districts – and consequently, for the majority of students as well. As states strive to make effective use of CARES Act funding to develop effective virtual and hybrid learning models, these programs are even more important than ever. But how do we know what works and what doesn’t?
This is the question that the C4RI research team aims to answer. Currently, states as diverse as Utah, Michigan, Maine, Indiana, and Alabama have created digital learning grants to foster innovation and excellence in teaching and learning for schools, districts, and regional entities. These grant programs aim to accelerate the design, implementation, and sustainability of high quality digital learning programs in K-12 schools and districts. Because local funding disparities can be so great, state-level grant funding that prioritizes these areas can help level the playing field for disadvantaged students. However, states currently work in isolation. In far too many instances, each state is working independently to design and implement their own programs only to find themselves struggling to learn the same lessons over and over again. In addition, state-level leaders are seeking to prioritize funding for proven, effective strategies to increase student success in K-12 digital learning programs.
According to Dr. Christopher Harrington, President of the i4tl Center for Reacher and Innovation’s Board of Directors, the primary purpose of this study is to “take an inventory of these programs with an eye towards the collection of strategic data that can highlight program successes as well as illuminating areas of challenge or where the grant funding did not achieve the desired results.” Ultimately, he says, “our goal is to scale the lessons learned to state leaders” to influence the impact and continuation of future state-level granting programs that support digital learning. Adds Elizabeth LeBlanc, another Board member, “We see this as a crucial time to get a better understanding of where state funding is having the most impact – and where it is falling short in terms of innovation and equity.”
The project is designed to conduct a nationwide scan of all digital learning grant programs, looking at:
- The degree do the current state digital learning grant programs prioritize innovative policy, network infrastructure, digital content, human capacity, data management, and equity
- The challenges and successes that have been seen at the state, district, school, and classroom level
- The successes, solutions, and lessons learned that may be scaled to other states as they implement their own programs for maximum impact on student growth post-pandemic
This project provides a framework by which the research team may begin evaluating state-level digital learning grant programs along five key elements or critical success factors:
- Innovative Policy
- Digital Content and Curriculum
- Human Capacity
- Data Management and Privacy Issues
To this established framework, the C4RI team proposes to add an additional element examining the state grant programs for their focus on and support of expanding digital learning equity within their state.
States, districts, and schools have made – and will continue to make – major investments in devices, bandwidth, networking, digital content, and teacher training to promote digital learning. It is the goal of the C4RI team that they do so with the most current, accessible, and strategic information possible with an emphasis on intentional expansion of digital equity.
The i4tl Center for Research and Innovation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to accelerating change across K-12 learning communities. C4RI provides knowledge and services to children and adults through education-related research with the aim of accelerating innovation across schools and communities, creating an evidence-based foundation for growth. The organization’s agenda has three main focus areas to the work we support: bridging the gap between education research and practitioners in the field, increasing digital literacy and equity, and improving outcomes in rural educational settings. The i4tl Center for Research and Innovation research team evaluates programs with an eye towards the collection of strategic data that can highlight program successes as well as illuminating areas of challenge. Find out more about services, projects and partnerships at i4tlresearch.org.
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