School Choice; Just a Click Away

My daughter spoke Finnish on Christmas Eve.

I thought my nine-year-old had just made up some Swedish Chef-style gibberish until she provided a detailed translation. And a few of her phrases sounded a lot like my older Finnish relatives talking.

As it turned out, my daughter had discovered Google Translate. She converted a few English sentences to the obscure Nordic language, clicked the “listen” button, and practiced the paragraph repeatedly until she had it memorized.

I didn’t ask my kid to learn the language of her great-grandparents and if I had, I wouldn’t have known where to start. Shockingly, few public school teachers are fluent in Finnish and even specialized schools don’t see an urgent need for a generation of Suomophiles who can properly order mustikkakeitto ja kahvi on their monthly visits to Jyväskylä.

But one child was curious, motivated and quickly found an answer on our computer. (Of course, she had to wait for her older sister to finish a Power Point on marsupials.)

Technology has transformed America. In the office, it has increased productivity, improved efficiency and strengthened our economy. In the home, it has sped up communications, expanded entertainment and improved our quality of life. And with the mobile revolution, we have rapid access to unlimited information in our pocket or purse.

So why are many bureaucrats still clinging to the archaic, one-size-fits-all, low-tech school model for America’s 55 million students? Too many states frown on digital learning through restrictive laws and outdated rules. The status quo might work for a clock-watching school administrator or overpaid union boss, but it is failing the next generation.

Today, we have a nation of overwhelmed teachers responding to overcrowded classrooms by teaching to the lowest common denominator. But with proven and inexpensive technology, teachers and parents can create a customized education for each of America’s students. Not only for comfortable suburban kids with home computers, but also for the most impoverished kids from inner-city Detroit to the remotest corners of the Navajo Nation.

While a few students might prefer an online-only approach, most kids would benefit from blended learning, which incorporates technology into a face-to-face classroom environment. A customized education with high standards will help all K-12 students to graduate with the smarts and skills to succeed in college and career. Digital learning allows students to learn at their own pace, in their own style, anywhere, anytime.

Less than 10 percent of students in the U.S. are reaping the rewards of digital learning. But states can extend this option to all students by reforming their outdated education systems with tech-friendly changes. State by state, governors, legislators and citizens can make education work for their kids and communities.

My kids won’t wait for our policymakers to catch up with the 21st Century. They’ll continue to research koalas, foreign languages, and anything else that sparks their curiosity. But we need to make sure that all children are able to become the best learner, worker and citizen they can be.

Follow me on Twitter at @ExJon.