EdNET Insight | The K-12 Horizon Report

From the Editor

The K-12 Horizon Report

Anne Wujcik — Friday, May 20, 2011

First a piece of good news.  Not jump up and down good, but maybe we can all stop holding our breath, at least for the time being.  A small number of states are seeing unexpected revenue growth.  California expects revenues to be $6.6 billion higher than originally forecast, allowing it to allocate an additional $3 billion to K-12 schools.  But the state still faces a $10 billion budget gap.  New Jersey expects to see at least $269 million more in revenues for the fiscal year that starts on July 1. There the Governor is proposing using that “extra” revenue for property tax relief and pension fund payments.  (Last year, New Jersey decided to not fully fund its obligation for state aid to local school districts, a decision which is now under review by the state’s court system.) 

Michigan expects to carry a $429 million surplus into the next fiscal year, which starts Oct 1, 2011, due largely to the comeback of its auto industry.  The Governor wants to cut K-12 spending by at least $470 per student; universities are facing a 15% budget cut.  The legislature is less bullish about K-12 spending cuts, with Democrats wanting to see the surplus spent on schools and even Republicans doubtful about the need for such deep cuts.

This brief snapshot underlines the complexity of the state revenue pictures and especially of the K-12 funding outlook.  While there is no place where state revenues are back to pre-recession levels, things are beginning to move in the right direction. As that happens, the funding faceoff shifts to debating whether K-12 cuts are restored as much as possible, be reduced less drastically than originally proposed or be maintained as a measure of fiscal accountability.  Governors have a lot of competing claims to balance as they try to move forward.

This next tidbit is credited to the Empirical Education newsletter (http://www.empiricaleducation.com/index.php), which features a short piece on the new competition for the Regional Education Labs.  The new RFP calls for the labs to build capacity for research among practitioners, helping state and local educators begin to build a culture of experimentation. The Labs are also being directed to work through “alliances” of state and local agencies, working across state lines, at least within each of the ten regions.  To me this builds on and should help strengthen the type of multi-state cooperation that we saw in the effort to develop the Common Core State Standards and the Race to the Top Assessment consortia.  Potentially such cooperation is not just more cost effective, it’s more likely to be long lasting as well.   

The New Media Consortium (NMC) released The NMC Horizon Report: 2011 K-12 Edition.  This is the third in the K-12 series of reports and is produced by the NMC in collaboration with the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), and the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), with the support of HP’s Office of Global Social Innovation.

Hallmark of the Horizon Reports are the six emerging technologies or practices that are identified as likely to enter mainstream use in the educational community over the next five years.  On the near-term horizon – that is, within the next 12 months – are cloud computing and mobiles. Two to three years out, NCM predicts that there will begin to be widespread adoptions of game-based learning and open content. On the far-term horizon, four to five years away from widespread adoption, are learning analytics and personal learning environments. 

But each Horizon report also identifies critical challenges that schools face, especially those that are likely to continue to affect education over the five-year time period covered by the report.  The challenges ranked as most significant in terms of their impact on teaching, learning, and creative inquiry, in their order of importance, are:

Challenge 1: Digital media literacy continues its rise in importance as a key skill in every discipline and profession.
The NCM board notes that we are far from seeing digital media literacy as a norm.  It attributes this to the fact that training in digital literacy skills is rare in teacher education and school district professional development programs. Perhaps most importantly, the reports states that “digital literacy is less about tools and more about thinking, and thus skills and standards based on tools and platforms have proven to be somewhat ephemeral.

Until we stop focusing on the technology and instead focus on teaching and learning, there will continue to be a lot of less than useful wheel spinning that continues to distract from real digital literacy.
Challenge 2: Economic pressures and new models of education are presenting unprecedented competition to traditional models of schools.
The issue here is finding ways to control costs while still providing a high quality of service.

We all are hearing the increased emphasis in the ongoing dialogue on technology as a way to save money.  We need to be sure that at the same time the technology is used to ensure that students reach deeper levels of understanding.

Challenge 3: The demand for personalized learning is not adequately supported by current technology or practices.
“It has become clear that one-size-fits-all teaching methods are neither effective nor acceptable for today’s diverse students. Technology can and should support individual choices about access to materials and expertise, amount and type of educational content, and methods of teaching.”

The missing link here is attitudinal.  If personalized learning is to become a reality, schools and educators have to really value and support learner choice and control.  It can be hard for teachers to shift control to their students in really meaningful ways.

Challenge 4: A key challenge is the fundamental structure of  the K-12 education establishment – aka “the system.”
“As long as maintaining the basic elements of the existing system remains the focus of efforts to support education, there will be resistance to any profound change in practice.”

If change at the level of teacher and classroom is difficult, systemic change is even harder. 

Challenge 5: Many activities related to learning and education take place outside the walls of the classroom and thus are not part of our learning metrics.
Here thde report authors focus on how hard it is to bring out-of-school experiences back to the classroom.

I’m not sure about how one would measure these experiences, but knowing even a little biit about studnets’ outside learning interests could help teachers take the first steps towards personalization.

Some ‘good-ish” news.