Experts praise Gates, Pearson digital common core initiative

Online education experts are praising an announcement that the world's largest philanthropic organization is designing 24 digital reading and math courses that will be aligned to the common core standards.

The digital courses, made possible by a $20 million grant by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in partnership with textbook giant Pearson, will be available to schools by 2013. Four of the courses - two in each subject - will be available for free.

The fact that it will be aligned to the common core standards is a sign that we are moving, as universities have been, toward global content standards and assessments," said Peggy Ericson, director of California Technology Assistance Project, a state-wide technical assistance program funded by the California Department of Education.

Ericson added in an email that the decision to supply free courses will hook the "movers and shaker teachers" to push the state to adopt digital curriculum.

Unfortunately, budget constraints have forced California to suspend new textbook adoptions through 2015-16.

But pending legislation attempts to bridge supplemental materials with common core in lieu of the freeze.

SB 140 by Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, would require the California Department of Education to develop a list of core-aligned supplemental instructional materials that would be adopted by the California State Board of Education by August 2012.

From there, local school boards would have the authority to use the materials for both K-8 and high school instruction.

Under current law, districts would be banned from using new instructional materials for K-8 and could only use unauthorized high school materials if they were purchased without state funds.

The courses available through the Gates/Pearson initiative will include video games and other multimedia resources to build proficiency in reading and math.

The Gates foundation is working with game designers and curriculum writers across the world, and plan to reach out to teachers across the country to test new ideas.

California experts said that teachers do need to be incorporated into every phase of the implementation process.

"I'm all for (the Gates initiative) as long as its quality, as long as its collaborative, and as long as we make sure that teachers are part of the process and we work together," said Dotti Ysais, a director for the Center for Distance and Online Learning, a Los Angeles-based multimedia professional development service.

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