Technology can change the way parents make educational choices for their children, the incoming president of the Florida Senate said Thursday.
It might also prompt educators to rethink some of their basic assumptions — like what constitutes a school day.
State Sen. Andy Gardiner told a gathering of educators and tech industry representatives that his view of education is informed by his experience as a parent of three homeschool children.
One of the biggest challenges home education parents face is gaining access to a quality curriculum, the Orlando Republican said. Parents should be able to download an app that lets them browse information about local schools — including their curriculum, what they teach and how.
“As a parent, I can decide that’s the best place for my child to be, or if I’m going to choose to homeschool, I can use that curriculum to provide for my child,” he said.
“I think that’s the future,” he added. “I actually believe that in 10 years, your standard public school day will not be from eight (in the morning) to three (in the afternoon)” — it might vary based on the options chosen for individual students.
Gardiner, who on Tuesday is expected to be elected president of the state Senate, was a key backer of legislation creating one program that allows parents to make educational choices that go beyond selecting the schools their children attend for the whole day.
Florida’s Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts allow parents of special needs children to pay for a mix of therapies and educational services. They are administered by organizations line Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.
The program, in its first year, serves a small fraction of the state’s students, but it’s one example of the wave of customization that is also straining some conventions of traditional schools.
Gardiner’s comments capped a half-day symposium on technology and education convened by state Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity. He was not the first speaker to question the way the education system revolves around “seat time.”
It used to be reformers and ed-tech enthusiasts who challenged the idea that schools should be bound to a five-hour instructional day and 180-day school year, Legg said. Yet he noted that at Thursday’s event, “mainstream educators” were also talking about stretching those boundaries.
During one panel discussion, Mike Grego, the superintendent of Pinellas County schools, said now that students have access to digital curricula, teachers in his district are looking for ways to “expand the five, five-and-a-half hours of the elementary school day.”
“Time is an enemy for many of us, because time is a constant in our schooling business,” he said. “But (with) digital learning, time should not be held constant. So how do we expand that throughout the school day, and even in the summertime, and over the holidays?”
In future legislative sessions, Legg said he expected lawmakers would work on new iterations of the digital classrooms legislation he sponsored earlier this year. The Department of Education has begun publishing digital learning plans developed by school districts around the state.
The plans will be tied to a likely increases in funding for classroom technology. Legg and Gardiner said they hoped at least to double the $40 million digital classrooms allocation in this year’s budget.
Kurt Browning, the schools superintendent of Pasco County, said more dedicated funding would be crucial for districts trying to increase the use technology in their classrooms. But districts will have to do more than simply buy devices. They also need to help teachers make a “huge shift, mentally, on how to go about engaging students in the classroom.”
“Many of them have made the shift or are making the shift,” he said. “But we still have teachers who like the closed doors, straight rows, paper textbooks. We’re trying to tell them that is not engaging to our students.”