We were excited to see that U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers from Washington introduced a bill just before Congress’ August recess, H.R. 5303, to promote high-quality blended learning schools across the country. Successful blended learning schools are created when teachers and school leaders design and implement new instructional models to personalize learning for their students. Education technology is a key part of blended learning, but the real magic is in designs that combine elements like small group instruction, formative assessments, time for teachers to collaborate on data analysis and planning, adaptive digital content, and group or individual student projects.
If passed, this bill would give states the flexibility to use ESEA Title II-A funds to run competitions to support school districts, charter schools, or consortia (that can include both) launching blended learning projects. Funds could support planning and design activities, professional development for teachers and school leaders, technology upgrades to improve bandwidth and wifi access, and the purchase of digital instructional resources. Applicants would also have the opportunity to request waivers of state policies (e.g., seat time requirements that prevent advancement based on mastery) that may restrict their proposed blended learning models.
Blended learning models are not necessarily more expensive for school systems over time, but can involve significant up front investments to upgrade bandwidth and connectivity, purchase additional technology devices, and dedicate staff to design and professional development activities. A few hundred blended learning schools have launched across the country with support from foundations (e.g., Next Generation Learning Challenge), states (e.g. Ohio and Rhode Island), and the Race to the Top-District competition, but a consistent federal funding stream could rapidly accelerate adoption of blended learning.
We commend Rep. McMorris Rodgers for introducing this bill and sparking what we hope is a robust discussion about the best way blended learning can be encouraged through various federal policy levers, and eventually through ESEA reauthorization.
About the author
Neil is the Policy Director for Personalized and Blended Learning for the Foundation. Neil previously worked as the Director of Strategic Initiatives at Education Elements, an education technology company that helps schools design and implement personalized learning solutions. Neil also served at the U.S. Department of Education as a Special Assistant and later Chief of Staff in the Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development where he focused on the Department’s budget formulation and planning. Neil came to the Department as part of The Broad Residency in Education after receiving his MBA from Vanderbilt University and working at The Boston Consulting Group. Contact Neil at Neilc@excelined.org