Technology can be a wonderful tool for learning.

Education Commissioner Terry Holliday

Education Commissioner Terry Holliday

It allows access to up-to-date information, increases communication, and offers interactivity and relevance as we prepare ALL students to be college- and career-ready in a global, technology-driven world.

It also holds immense instructional promise for students who, due to financial, physical or learning disabilities and other educational barriers, struggle to achieve their highest potential.

Nationally we have seen how technology is increasingly impacting teaching and learning. In Kentucky, just in the past several months, we announced an iTunes project that offers educators access to high-quality digital content resources; witnessed the emergence of 1:1 tablet projects in school districts that provide digital learning resources and textbooks to students; seen school districts utilize Skype to bridge physical barriers to providing rigorous coursework; and introduced a mobile portal application that enables parents to monitor their children’s progress.

But technology in and of itself is not the solution to ensuring ALL Kentucky’s children learn at high levels and are college- and career-ready. It is not a matter of simply plugging in or powering up. Like any educational tool, its use requires planning and forethought. In the case of technology, our attention has often been focused on three areas:

  • Funding: At a time of tight budgets and lack of resources, how will we cover the cost of buying technology and training educators to use it? Should districts be allowed to use textbook funding for the purchase of digital resources and equipment?
  • Access: Will we block inappropriate sites from students and teachers, and how will we go about doing that? How do we ensure students in all school districts have access to the same technology?
  • Learning outcomes: Does digital learning make a difference in student learning outcomes?

For the past several months, the Kentucky Department of Education, with input from a broad range of stakeholders from throughout the state, has been finalizing a P-12 digital learning report that will answer these questions.

The report – compiled with the assistance of the consulting firm OpenEd Solutions – will be presented to the Kentucky Board of Education this month, and to key legislators for action during the 2012 legislative session.

The report contains funding, support, policy and instructional recommendations, and grew out of a recommendation included in the final report of Gov. Steve Beshear’s Task Force on Transforming Education in Kentucky (TEK).

The report also is being framed by the Digital Learning Now! report, The 10 Elements of High Quality Digital Learning. Digital Learning Now! is a national campaign focused on advancing policies that will create high-quality digital learning that will better prepare students to succeed in college and careers.

Closing the Achievement Gap

As we discuss and debate technology use in our classrooms, some of those same issues – equity, resources and outcomes – also are driving conversations about another critical issue: achievement gaps.

As we saw with the latest results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), Kentucky has made gains, but we still have much work to do before we can say we are providing equity in access and outcomes to ALL children.

In 4th-grade math in Kentucky, there is a 19-point gap for poverty and an 18-point gap for race. While both of those gaps are better than the national gaps, and we have closed the gaps since 2000, we must redouble our efforts for children in poverty.

In 4th-grade reading, the Kentucky gaps are 20 points for poverty and 16 points for race. Again, we are better than the national gaps and have improved since 2000. The 8th-grade gaps tell a similar story.

Almost two years ago, I revitalized the Commissioner’s Raising Achievement/Closing Gaps Council (CRACGC). This council recently published recommendations to ensure equity in access and outcomes.

The council’s achievement gap recommendations and the P-12 digital learning report will serve as valuable roadmaps as we – in collaboration with our schools, partners and communities ­– seek to improve Kentucky’s educational system. Now it is up to us to use them as we seek to better prepare Kentucky’s children to succeed in their future.