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Transforming Education in Nevada Through High-Quality Digital Learning

The Nevada Policy Research Institute | by Steven Miller, Dan Lips | November 3, 2011

Executive Summary 

Nevada policymakers need to consider new strategies for improving education.

According to the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, Nevada taxpayers spend approximately $10,400 annually for each child enrolled in public school. Yet according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, only 24 percent of Nevada fourth graders and 22 percent of eighth graders were scoring "proficient or better" in reading as of 2009.

Given that average per-pupil spending now tops $10,000, this means that taxpayers will have invested more than $80,000 in the typical student's education by the end of eighth grade. Yet by that time less than a quarter of Nevada students have mastered reading sufficiently to be considered on grade-level. This status quo should be unacceptable to parents and taxpayers alike, and Nevada policymakers should appreciate the urgent need for solutions to improve educational opportunities for the state's students.

Across the country, elected officials, school leaders and concerned citizens from across the political spectrum are recognizing the exciting potential for using technology and digital learning to transform public education for the better. From virtual-school programs that allow students to learn at home to computer-based instruction within traditional classrooms, digital learning offers improved access to high-quality instruction and better and individually customized learning experiences for students and can boost students' academic achievement. It offers a real prospect of superior results, coupled with lower costs.

According to the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), during the 2009-10 school year, roughly 1.5 million students participated in online or blended-learning programs in the United States. Multiple forms of digital learning, including supplemental online programs and full-time virtual schools, were available to at least some students in 48 states and the District of Columbia.

Nevada, however, was one of only 11 states that did not have a statewide virtual school. And in terms of the K-12 digital-learning options offered students, Nevada is only in the middle of the pack - ranked 20th in the nation in 2009 by the Center for Digital Education in favorable policies to support digital and online learning programs.

This paper examines the landscape of online or digital learning in the United States, reviews the available research about the effectiveness of digital-learning programs, and presents recommendations as to how Nevada policymakers can expand access to high-quality digital-learning programs for all Silver State students.

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