Learning Without Limits: Abbott's Education Plan

Learning Without Limits: Abbott's Education Plan

“Creating opportunities for unlimited learning will require newtools, new mindsets and new ways of thinking,” said Greg Abbott, the GOPgubernatorial candidate and current Texas Attorney General, who has beentraveling the state with the third phase of his Educating Texans: High-Quality Digital Learning.


On May 8, in a Tyler elementaryschool, Abbott announced a $164 million plan to increase access totechnological teaching tools, online courses, teacher and student tutoring modulesplus state grants to improve digital learning, according to the Tyler MorningTelegraphAbbott fleshed out his recommendations of Texas public education digital learning that allowed for “learning without limits.” 


In Tyler, he said,exponentially by bytes and bandwidth,” adding, “technology is more than aneducational tool.  It’s an essential jobskill.  Proficiency with technology isnow required in every field of work.”


No doubt, the social media learning genie has been let out of the bottle and the old school classroom is not coming back. Abbott’s intention to introduce moredigital learning tools is to assist the overall learningexperience and not to substitute teachers for computers in the classrooms, the Tyler MorningTelegraph reported.


“Digital learning will propel a transitiontoward an education system based on personalized education plans that focus onthe individual needs of each student rather than seat-time requirements,” the plan stated.


Also, it is structuredto help  students  learn  at  a  pace appropriate  for  them,  offering  greater options to  choose courses  that will fit best with  personallearning styles.


InTyler, Abbott also said that high school students should have more learningoptions, from trade skills, and online courses but he also emphasized that studentsin poor-performing schools should have choice and access to learning tools aswell as the best teachers regardless of what campus they attend.


Overall, Abbott’s plan outlines digital learning goalsand the creation of grants for programs on campuses with “D” or “F”ratings under the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) accountability system.  Among the objectives is to close the achievementgaps between students at these underperforming schools and the state’s topperforming districts while improving access to high-quality digital learning,according to the Texas Tribune.


The article also highlighted the creation of other grants that wouldencourage school districts to develop and implement blended virtual educationmodels, expand access to the Texas Virtual School Network, provide onlinetutoring services to aid students who are preparing for end-of-course exams, and fundteacher professional development at schools that want to implement individualized  blended learning.  Blended means a combination of online andtraditionally taught teacher led instruction. 


Another goal in the plan was to assist geographically rural students who “stand  to  benefit from  online courses” because they would give these studentsthe option to take classes not  available in  the  schools  they currently attend.  These might be for college  preparatory, dual  enrollment,  and/or  advanced  placement.array of  foreign languages, electives, and career and industry course options,” the plan also included.


Likewise, Abbott’s plan addressed thepossible retention of at-risk students who might  benefit  fromonline courses because of  the  scheduling flexibility  these  courses  provide.


Making such grantsavailable to these campuses would compensate for the repeal of the public schoolTechnology Allotment, the loss of Telecommunications Infrastructure Fundsubsidies for telecommunications infrastructure in rural areas, and may helpoffset the potential expiration of telecommunications service discounts forpublic schools that is set to occur in 2016, according to the plan.


This is about expandingaccess to high-speed Internet through broadband connections, internet-enableddevices, and other technological tools that can be used to help students attaincompetency in the Texas Essential Knowledge & Skills (TEKS) standards. 


The InstructionalMaterials Allotment and Senate Bill 6 (SB 6) are entirely separate from the proposedAbbott Technology Grant Program.


SB 6 was the legislation that alteredTexas education in 2011.  It heralded inthe digital education age, establishing an instructional “materialsallotment;” it also changed the adoption, review and purchase ofinstructional materials and technological equipment for public schools.  The role of the State Board of Education(SBOE) also became more limited.


Accordingto Abbott’s plan, he’d create “innovation grants” to be awarded on a competitive basis. Districtswill be encouraged to develop a blended education plan to help their studentsadvance even faster.


Phase3 also proposed improving enrollment in the Texas Virtual School Network.  Although createdin 2007 by the Legislature to provide semester-long online courses that countedfor course credit in public schools,  theTexas Tribune reportedcurrent enrollment as dismal.  Only 2,400 students out of more than 1million in the state enrolled during the spring 2013 semester, according toAbbott.


However, Abbott suggested that enrollment has been boggeddown for several reasons including the fact that a district can deny astudent’s enrollment if it offers a “substantially similar course,” anddistricts will only pay for three online courses for each student per year.


In Tyler, Abbott proposed changingstate law so that a student could take any course that aligned with the state’scurriculum standards, TEKS, and fit into the student’s graduation plan.


“It’s time toreimagine education and the tools we use to prepare our students for the jobsof tomorrow. We must ensure that every school in Texas has access to high speedbroadband with sufficient bandwidth so that every student can learn in aninteractive and information-rich environment,” Abbott said in Tyler.

Although some Texas public school districts have already developed partnershipswith tech companies and the private sector to expand student access to thetechnology and tools required for students to succeed in the future, not everyoneis a technocrat.  Concerns over excessivescreen time, the ability to write cursive, the lack of traditional face-to-face time, and Common Core seeping into the educational contenthave all surfaced. 


However,former Rep. Rob Eissler (R-The Woodlands) addressed these concerns, sharing an upside with BreitbartTexas.  He said, “when you thinkabout it, digital is the preferred learning tool of today — for adults, notjust kids. We turn to Google before anything else,” adding as a result ofour digital reality, “Google’s become a verb.”


Anotherpositive is that technology in the classroomfamiliarizes students with computers, tablets, and other devices that areessential components of the modern workplace. Also, digital learninghelps students learn at an individuated pace.  It also becomes easier for teachers to keepclassroom-based electronic tabs on student progress so they can focus on students who are mostin need of help.


Eissler, who is a former past chairof  House Committee on Public Education, co-sponsored SB 6. On a more serious note, he toldBreitbart Texas that he fully understands concerns over online education.  


He also wonders how much of people’sfears come from the double-edged reality that online content can changeconstantly. He cited Wikipedia as an example. Still, Eissler was confident that Texas’ empirically-based, notinterpretation-based TEKS education standards would serve students well online.

“The digital world is here to stay,” Eissler added.

The Abbott campaign assured Breitbart Texas that all online courses in Texas must be “in a specific subjectthat is part of the required curriculum” as established by the TexasLegislature and the State Board of Education.


Breitbart Texas has been following theroll-out of Abbott’s Educating Texans plan, the firstphase focused on pre-kindergarten to third grade; the second,on local control. For this phase, the San Antonio Express News reported that the $164 million “could easily be absorbed by the state budget as it exists now.”