How are we doing?
I am a huge believer in the power of technology to transform education and enable “leapfrog” progress for our children.
And unless you have been living under a rock, don’t read newspapers, watch TV or think about what’s happening in the world, one thing is abundantly clear to all – technology is as vital to education in the 21st Century as books and chalk boards were in the 19th and 20th centuries.
So the question is: how is South Carolina doing in integrating digital learning into our public schools? The report card is in and the answer truly is – good, bad and ugly.
A recent study by the Foundation for Excellence in Education is entitled Digital Learning Report Card 2012. It is just that, a report card of how each state is doing with tons of facts, figures, statistics, data and analysis to back it up.
And in case you are tempted to dismiss the study as some sort of biased sham perpetrated by some special partisan or corporate interest, don’t — its credibility and bipartisan credentials are impeccable. The Foundation was started in 2008 by former Governor Jeb Bush of Florida, and in 2010, with former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise, they launched the Digital Learning Council to study what each state was doing and provide a yardstick to measure progress.
The mission and message of the Foundation as outlined by Gov. Bush could not be clearer or more important – “Education is our nation’s great equalizer. Ensuring the next generation of Americans has an equal opportunity to achieve greatness is a central tenet of our education system…We have the tools at our hands, let’s get the policy right. We don’t have any second chances.”
So, has South Carolina gotten the policy right? Again, it’s good, bad and ugly.
First the good. When compared to other states in overall performance, we do well. In fact, South Carolina is ranked 9th among the 50 states. This overall ranking is based on detailed measurements of 10 different elements using 39 separate metrics. It’s the single most important measure in the study and in it, we do well.
There are lots of reasons for this but one big reason is that in years past, the SC Educational Television system and its operations were the best in the nation. We created a very strong early foundation of integrating media and digital tools into the whole education process. We should all be very proud of what we did…back then.
Next, the bad. Although we are in the Top 10, our overall score is only 75 percent, or a letter grade of C. In some areas, we rank very high and get an A – quality content, assessment and accountability, and quality choices of digital providers. But in other important areas, we are a miserable failure with a D or F – student eligibility, adequate funding and infrastructure support.
As with so many other areas of education in the state – some places we’re great, some we are terrible – and the overall results put us in the C or lower category.
And now, the truly ugly. The ugly part is that the state Legislature is doing nothing to take seriously the importance of digital education and is taking no steps to improve the current situation.
In 2011, there were only two significant pieces of digital learning legislation even introduced in the legislature; both of them failed to pass. In 2012, it was even worse; no significant bills were even introduced. For 2011-12 combined, we were the only state in the union that did not pass any significant digital learning legislation – none, nada, zippo.
As ironic as it seems, the best words of wisdom on what we must do on digital learning come from our distant past. In his second Annual Message to Congress — what we would today call his second State of the Union — Abraham Lincoln said, “It is not can any of us imagine better? But can we all do better?…The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise to the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.”
We as a state must heed Lincoln’s words to be successful in the 21st Century.
It is vital that our state’s political leaders “think and act anew.”
Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and is President of the SC New Democrats, an independent reform group founded by former Gov. Richard Riley.