December 1, 2014

Conflicting Policy Trends Shape Personalized Learning’s Future

By Bellwether

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Schools eager to develop blended learning models are starting to see new funding opportunities within their states—but their efforts may be stymied by harsh privacy laws.
Last  month, the Evergreen Education Group published its 11th annual Keeping Pace report profiling digital learning trends and policies across all 50 states and Washington, D.C. Although the 178-page report discusses a broad range of state policies related to digital learning, two policy developments emerge as particularly salient—yet potentially conflicting—to the future of personalized learning:
1. States are distributing funding in creative ways to encourage the growth of personalized learning.

Foundations have historically played a large role in funding blended learning initiatives, but states are beginning to launch their own competitive innovation funds. In Maryland, the governor created the Digital Learning Innovation Fund, which provides grants of up to $1 million to districts that will leverage digital learning to improve student outcomes. In the 2013-14 school year, grantees included Baltimore Public Schools, Frederick County Public Schools, and the SEED School of Maryland.

In Ohio, the state recently launched the $6 million eTextbook Pilot Program, which provides funding to schools or consortia to purchase blended instructional or professional development tools. Applicants received priority if they indicated how they would choose content most relevant to the state’s 21st century workforce needs.

2. The number of states enacting data privacy laws skyrocketed in 2014.

As more schools begin to adopt personalized learning models, however, parents and privacy advocates have raised concerns about how secure students’ data is and whether commercial providers might use this data for non-instructional purposes. According to the Keeping Pace report, 20 states had passed new data privacy laws as of August of this year. For instance, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal signed HB 1076 into law, which has strict language limiting how providers can use student data. The newly passed legislation will restrict the ability of Louisiana schools to use adaptive software programs, which create more effective learning environments by analyzing student data on learning outcomes and patterns.

It’s not likely that data privacy in the K-12 education realm will be resolved anytime soon. Recent controversy over ClassDojo—the increasingly popular software used by teachers to track student behavior—suggests that student data privacy will continue to be a contentious topic moving into 2015.

States are taking a step in the right direction by providing financial support to districts that want to implement personalized learning to improve education outcomes. But funding is not enough. New state privacy policies, while often developed in response to legitimate concerns, may restrict schools from adopting new technologies that depend on the use of comprehensive student data. At Bellwether, we’ll be keeping an eye on both of these trends—and how they shape the progress of personalized learning in the near future.

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