In our opinion: Utah earns digital learning excellence

Published: Tuesday, April 1 2014 11:36 a.m. MDT

For the second year in a year, Utah received the No. 1 ranking — among all 50 states — on the Digital Learning Report Card. We congratulate Utah policymakers and educators for placing first in the nation on this measure.

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For the second year in a row, Utah received the No. 1 ranking — among all 50 states — on the Digital Learning Report Card, a national initiative of the Foundation for Excellence in Education. The report card measures and grades primary and secondary educational policies among the states against the foundation’s 10 elements of high-quality digital learning.

Far too frequently, many in the education establishment criticize Utah for its large class sizes and low per-pupil spending. In 2012 the median size for a high school geometry class was 31, and despite spending 48.9 percent of its budget on public education last year, Utah still spent the least per pupil in the nation.

On the report card, however, Utah emerges as the vanguard of the nation, with a 92.3 percent score, because the state has opportunities for students in all grades to access online courses, because it requires credit to be based on mastery of skills and content rather than on seat time, and because of its “Student Achievement Backpack,” which creates a portable education record that follows the student from school to school — and gives parents the right and ability to securely access those records.

The report card is an outgrowth of the Digital Learning Council convened in 2010 by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican, and former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, a Democrat. They helped garner support from leaders in education, government, philanthropy and business around 10 core elements in education: student eligibility, student access, personalized learning, advancement, quality content, quality instruction, quality choices, assessment and accountability, funding and delivery.

“As this Digital Learning Report Card highlights, more states are allowing their students to customize their education in a way that best meets their learning style, and empowers them with the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in college and the workplace,” said Bush.

“Too often, new education models, including online, blended and competency-based learning, are blocked by outdated regulations and laws,” said John Bailey, executive director of the foundation’s national initiative on digital learning, which issued the report card.

Among the areas for which Utah received kudos was its passage, in 2013, of HB393, the competency-based education amendments. The bill allowed local school boards, including charter school boards, to award credit to students who show competency and subject mastery — rather than those who simply spend time in a classroom.

Additionally, Utah allowed private and home-schooled students to earn high school graduation credit as part of publicly funded online courses.

We congratulate Utah policymakers and educators for placing first in the nation on this report card for the second year in a row.

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